IOWA CITY - Through it all, Nate Wieland still felt this moment would arrive.
Last year, a puzzling leg injury forced the Iowa City High quarterback to miss the last seven games of a football season in which his teammates won two playoff co ... »
No. 24 ... Going into the 2013, big things were expected from the defensive line, and junior Darian Cooper was expected to play a role in that. And he did just that, but it wasn’t the role that was expected. One of the biggest differences between 2012 (4-8) and 2013 (8-5, Outback Bowl) Iowa was the defensive line. Specifically, Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat settled in at tackle and kept opposing offensive linemen off the trio of senior linebackers, two of whom (Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens) went in the NFL draft.
Cooper (6-2, 282 pounds) fell into the No. 3 defensive tackle role. He collected 34 tackles in 2012 and had 18 last season. Trinca-Pasat showed some “iron man” capability in 2012, but Davis was a mystery. He came through in a big way, and Cooper was the rotation defensive tackle.
For the Hawkeyes, this is an incredibly healthy situation. Defensive tackle is now a thriving position on the depth chart. That’s always a good thing.
A lock to play ... Cooper’s shift in playing time is, actually, progress for Iowa’s defensive line. It shows competition, fierce competition. When wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said this spring that it won’t be easy to earn playing time at WR, that’s exactly where defensive tackle is for the Hawkeyes.
You have to bring something to the table.
“I’m getting better,” Cooper said. “There are still a bunch of things I need to do. Football is an ongoing process. There’s always something that you need to improve on and that’s where I’m at.”
In 2012, a sort of a “feet getting wet” kind of a season, Cooper finished 11th on the team with 34 tackles. He also had 3.5 tackles for loss and batted down two passes. Last year, on a higher-caliber defensive line, Cooper had 18 tackles (13th on the team) and 1.5 tackles for loss with a sack.
“You’re trying separate yourself from the pack,” he said. “You’re fighting for a starting position in the spring, but you really win it in August.”
History lesson ... Cooper is a fourth-year junior. That means his career as a defensive tackle at Iowa started opposite offensive tackle Riley Reiff and how has offensive tackle Brandon Scherff in front of him.
“When I first got here, I was so used to playing in high school and running, maybe giving a guy the shoulder, maybe him falling back or stumbling but definitely moving,” Cooper said. “So, I’m running at Riley Reiff. I turn and — BOOM! — I hit him.
“I’m like what is this? I hit him and my legs stopped. Then, I feel two tree-trunk arms hit me.”
Outlook ... Cooper is not a Carl Davis type of defensive tackle. Davis is 6-5, 315. Cooper can be a Trinca-Pasat type of DT. They’re about the same height, same body type.
“You look at a guy like Darian Cooper,” D-line coach Reese Morgan said. “I don’t know what he’s listed at, but we are eye level to eye level here. Coop has got some good skills. We would like to have some guys inside that have some girth that can stand up against the run.”
Morgan said that going into the 2013 season. Iowa found what it was looking for with Davis and Trinca-Pasat. Cooper can certainly work himself back into that conversation, on a more regular basis at least, but he starts 2014 as the No. 3.
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