Year of the big leap for Cedrick Lattimore

The Hawkeyes need sophomore defensive tackle to eat O-lineman, tons of snaps

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IOWA CITY — Cedrick Lattimore hasn’t been home, as he says, "for a minute." That really means a long time, probably since one of the extended holidays, Christmas or spring break.

The last time a lot of his friends and family in Detroit saw a lot of him he was a 245-pound power forward for the East English Village Prep basketball team. Now, he’s a 6-5, 290-pound defensive tackle for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

“Right now, I’m weighing about 290,” Lattimore said. “Yeah, I’ve put on a lot of weight. When I went home, a lot of people said, ‘You’re really big now.’ I put on a lot of weight.”

The weight thing is the simple “in.” Lattimore is 290 pounds and, as it sits for the Hawkeyes right now, he’s worth his weight in gold.

You heard Lattimore’s name a little bit last fall. He was one of the few true freshmen in Kirk Ferentz’s going on 19 seasons as head coach to play on the defensive line. Iowa could afford to have Lattimore ride shotgun. Last year, the Hawkeyes had Jaleel Johnson, a 300-pound monster, on the inside of the defensive line. Johnson is projected as a third-rounder in next week’s NFL draft.

Credit the Iowa staff for some foresight. Any projected depth chart for 2017 defensive tackles was going to include Lattimore. So, the decision was made to get him out there as a true freshman.

He played just 86 snaps. Lattimore isn’t Jaleel Johnson, not yet anyway. But as the Hawkeyes finish spring practice Friday night at Kinnick Stadium, there’s probably no other Hawkeye on the roster who’ll see his snap count rise like Lattimore.

Johnson played 668 snaps last season, with the majority of those coming at the 1 technique, which is a fancy term for nose tackle.

Iowa needs to replace that. Lattimore is first in line with his hand up. He wants this.

“I actually am,” Lattimore said when asked if he is ready for that kind of jump. “It’s a challenge each and every day and I want to live up to that challenge.”

Defensive line coach Reese Morgan said Lattimore isn’t ready, but he also said no one on his D-line is ready for anything, at least not now, not in April. And, OK, that makes sense, that’s what coaches are programmed to say.

But seriously ...

“I think the thing about Cedrick that you love is he loves football,” Morgan said. “He’s got a lot of pride. He cares passionately about the game. He doesn’t want to let anybody down. It bothers him a great deal when he makes a mistake, probably to a fault.

“So, he’s a guy who has a lot of pride, wants to work, wants to do well. He will continue to improve, but he’s a freshman. He’s a true freshman on campus. He’s getting a ton of reps. He’s being coached every single snap, and he’s really fun to work with and be around.”

Still, a look at the depth chart and the lack of experience at defensive tackle and it becomes clear that Iowa needs Lattimore to come through, be dependable and eat O-linemen and snaps.

No amount of coachspeak can hide this fact.

“I think he’s going to be ready,” Morgan said. “He doesn’t have an option.”

That probably sounds foreboding. Let’s pull this back into something closer to realistic.

No one is expecting Lattimore to take over fully for Johnson, who was a fifth-year senior last season when he led Iowa in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (10.0). Yes, Johnson piled up 668 snaps last season because he was physically ready.

Everyone makes this jump at some point. Defensive end Anthony Nelson went from redshirting in 2015 to 622 snaps last season. End Matt Nelson saw a similar jump, going to 490 snaps in 2016. End bodies are different from tackle bodies, that has to be taken into account.

And it is, according to defensive coordinator Phil Parker, specifically in regard to Lattimore.

“As long as he’s productive and we can go out there and play, we’re going to play him,” Parker said. “Sometimes, it’s getting the guy reps through a series and a series count, pitch count, whatever you want to call it. I think that’s always good to make sure that, hey, he reaches a certain point, let’s give him some rest so he can be effective out there playing. We don’t want somebody out there being tired. We’ll put somebody else in. I think we’re building depth there, so that’s going to help us more when we start getting into the season.”

So, what other bodies at defensive tackle? The reason a true sophomore is being counted on so heavily is lack of experience. Again, this stage happens in every starter’s career, but who are the other bodies?

Senior Nathan Bazata should be the other starter. He’s missed a lot of spring practice with an ankle injury that’s lingered since the Wisconsin game last October. It’s a long way to September, let’s assume he’ll be ready and the other starter.

You’ve heard all spring about the rise of sophomore Brady Reiff, who made the switch from end to tackle late last season. Going off comments from the staff, it sounds as if Reiff has positioned himself at least to be the third tackle. At 6-3, 260, Reiff is one of those undersized D-tackles that Iowa has had from time to time. He also played just 52 snaps in 2016.

“Brady Reiff has been a standout when he’s been in there,” Parker said. “I think he has a future to help us out and take a lot of reps this year.”

Sophomore Garret Jansen has made a move for the fourth tackle spot this spring. He’s also undersized (6-2, 280) and played just a few snaps in 2016 (27), but the theme here is everyone starts somewhere.

“I think Garret Jansen has done a good job,” Parker said. “The last couple days he’s played well inside as a one technique and a three.”

Senior walk-on Jake Hulett lost last season to a broken leg. The 6-3, 289-pounder likely will push for rotation time.

In the meantime, Lattimore’s focus is straight ahead. A lot of days in practice for him, that’s looking across from senior guard Sean Welsh, a three-year starter and a third-team all-Big Ten pick last year and center James Daniels, second-year starter and also a third-team all-B1G pick last year.

Lattimore learns what not to do every day.

“That has helped me, competing with James,” Lattimore said. “We talk every day before practice. ‘Let’s go, let’s get the tempo going. Let’s get better today.’ That’s everyone on the defensive and offensive lines. We all compete and at the end of the day we’re teammates.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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