116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Seniors Matt Hankins, Jack Koerner and Riley Moss are at the helm of a secondary that not only is the most experienced group on the Iowa football team, but ranks among the best in the Big Ten for interceptions.
Every starter in the defensive backfield from 2020 returns this fall, including Hankins, Koerner, Moss and occasional starters such as juniors Kaevon Merriweather, Terry Roberts, Dane Belton and sophomore Jermari Harris.
In addition, Iowa adds Northern Iowa graduate transfer Xavior Williams to the lineup, a player Hawkeyes fans have yet to see since he was injured throughout the spring football season.
“I don’t want to start celebrating things, but I almost feel right now, we have probably six starters in the defensive backfield,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said in May. “That’s probably a good thing since we play a lot of dime DB stuff, even though we call it cash, but I feel like we've seen a lot of growth.”
Last year, Iowa was No. 3 (No. 10 nationally) in the Big Ten with 11 interceptions. Indiana led both the nation and the Big Ten with 17, while Northwestern had 14 (No. 3 nationally). Koerner was No. 6 in the Big Ten with three of those interceptions, which put him at No. 27 in the nation. Those came in three straight games — against Northwestern, Michigan State and Minnesota.
“In our individual drills, we do place a big precedence on getting the ball thrown to us and focusing on catching the ball,” Koerner said in April. “The biggest thing that I think translated over is that we have a scoreboard for getting interceptions, forced fumbles, picking up the ball after an incomplete pass and just things that get guys in the habit of getting to the ball.
“The coaches say they started placing an emphasis on it five years ago, and the results have obviously transferred over.”
Koerner earned second- and third-team All-Big Ten honors after starting at free safety, tallying 45 tackles, including 26 solo, two for loss with two pass breakups and a blocked field goal. He had just earned his scholarship in the spring of 2020 before his breakout season this past fall.
Hankins returns as a fifth-year senior, and is potentially the only Hawkeye to start five years in a row, since he’s using his COVID year. Hankins started at cornerback last year, receiving honorable mention All-Big Ten with 41 total tackles, including 28 solo, five pass breakups and one interception. Moss, who started at cornerback and received third-team and honorable mention All-Big Ten, had 33 solo tackles and two interceptions for 111 yards and one touchdown.
Merriweather, who had five starts at strong safety and saw action in every game last year, collected an interception during the first spring football game to spark some talk about the possibility of a breakout year on the horizon. He had 23 tackles last year, including 13 solo, and one pass breakup. Merriweather’s notable basketball background translates well to football.
“Kaevon has emerged as a leader, not just a good player,” Ferentz said. “He's playing with confidence now. He was kind of a project when we recruited him as a basketball player and I think he's really hit his full stride.”
Roberts, one of the younger members of the team, was No. 4 in the Big Ten and No. 11 in the nation in fumble recoveries. Iowa’s defense was No. 4 in the Big Ten in fumble recoveries, which was No. 25 in the nation.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker said in April that Roberts is the type of player he would play in man coverage in nickel or dime packages.
Belton, who was out all spring with an injury, also returns to the secondary as an honorable mention All-Big Ten player, who notably recorded one sack, five pass breakups and one forced fumble while playing the cash and strong safety positions. As someone who played in all eight games last year and was one of eight true freshmen to see the field in 2019, he’s primed to play a role in Iowa’s pass defense, especially in zone coverage.
“I really thought he grew in our last practice on playing zone coverages and is starting to see the big picture now,” Parker said in April. “I know he played there as a freshman and he played a lot last year at both positions, which I thought maybe put him in a bind and given him too much on his plate, but he's really enjoyed the challenge.”
Comments: (319)-398-8387, email@example.com