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No. 12 ... Jordan Lomax’s spring started in December. That’s when the junior started his move toward free safety.
Maybe his spring started last September. As a sophomore in 2013, Lomax (5-10, 200) won a cornerback spot out of fall camp and held it for all of three quarters. He suffered a hamstring injury in the opener. The injury lingered. Then-freshman Desmond King took root at corner and Lomax was out a job.
During Iowa’s bowl prep, defensive coordinator and secondary coach Phil Parker nudged Lomax over to free safety. And so that’s where he was this spring and remains this camp. Lomax is the No. 1 free safety and it’s starting to feel like home.
“It feels good,” Lomax said after the Hawkeyes’ spring game on Saturday. “I played some safety in high school. It’s just getting used to being on the back end, getting a whole wide-view perspective of the offense and defense.”
That’s part of the reason why Parker felt comfortable shifting Lomax to free safety. He’s an economics major who was academic all-Big Ten last year. Brains are a huge part of free safety.
“The safeties are very vocal,” said senior John Lowdermilk, who started last season at strong safety. “They have to tell the corners what to do. They have to know everything, the formations. [Lomax] has picked it up really well.
“He’s extremely smart, extremely smart. I wish I was as smart as him. He makes fun out of me. He’s picked up on it really well.”
This compliment made Lomax laugh.
“Anytime, they have a question, they always come to me,” Lomax said laughing. “They make jokes about my GPA because it’s high.”
Free safety as commander ... Maybe Lomax was the logical choice here. Maybe he was the only choice. Parker is a former safety and he knows exactly what he wants out of the position. There wasn’t much time wasted on this move. It happened quickly. Parker quickly admitted this spring that Lomax wasn’t there yet, but he must’ve seen something he liked.
“I know he’s a smart kid and I know he’s a tough kid and that’s why we like to make corner as a rolled-up guy but we thought, ‘hey, we’re going to get our best guys on the field,’ so we kind of made that adjustment,” Parker said, “who is going to control the secondary and that’s why we did it.
“The free safety has to be the commander. He’s got to be a vocal guy and he’s got to be like an assistant coach on the field, and that’s what I expect out of him.”
Econ 101 ... Lomax is an economics major and a two-time academic all-Big Ten selection. He’s serious about school, and, of course, that follows right along with video study and the playbook.
“First, when the offense comes out, you have to look at the formation,” Lomax said. “Once you understand the formation, you have to make the call. Once you make the call, you have to look around and get reads, any player who could give away whether or not it’s a run or pass.
“If there’s motion, you have to decide who you give the check to. And then, once the play actually goes on, you have to make your reads and read the quarterback. There is a lot of information. It’s not an easy transition.”
Outlook ... Iowa’s secondary was abused during the team’s open practice in Des Moines on April 12, allowing three TD passes of 50-plus yards. In the spring game a couple of weeks later at Kinnick Stadium, the defense gave up two long TD passes, a 42-yarder that freshman wide receiver Derrick Willies converted against the second-team defense and tight end Ray Hamilton finished a 54-yard scoring play after breaking a Lomax tackle.
That happened. Free safeties aren’t built in a day or even a spring. Brains were part of the reason why Parker saw a safety in Lomax, and so was his physical play.
Don’t discount that portion of Lomax’s game.
“He’s got some of the traits that you look for in safety,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s a physical player, he’s very intelligent, he’s been an honor student since he’s been here, and communicative that way.
“I think he’s got some traits that we’ve seen other safeties or good safeties that we’ve had. We worked with him last year at that position. Seemed like he took to it pretty naturally. Seems like right now he’s the best person for that job. All the jobs right now are up for contention. We’ll see what happens.”
Barring some unseen rise on the depth chart or an injury, expect Lomax to be the free safety. He’s been in that mode since December. More importantly, Parker and the rest of the defense has seen him as the free safety. He’s tried it on and it does seem to fit.
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