116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace named three athletes he considered to be starting linebackers during spring practice: sophomore Jestin Jacobs and juniors Jack Campbell and Seth Benson.
He said he envisioned Jacobs and Benson as edge players while leaving Campbell in the middle for spread opponents like Illinois, but Campbell closer to the line of scrimmage in an outside linebacker role for run-heavy Wisconsin, which tends to run to the edges of the line.
The three focused on rotational drills to gain comfort in each position this spring.
“The recipe is based on the opponent, but through what we're doing right now, in the position flexibility that we're creating, I think that that will give us an opportunity to get a little bit creative,” Wallace said in April. “The three right now are working, they're working really good together in the first group.”
The most experienced of the three is Benson, who received honorable mention all-Big Ten by league media, starting seven games and amassing 47 total tackles, including 26 solo, three for loss and two sacks. Wallace likened Benson’s readiness for the job as a starter as “conditioned like his 10-year-old son’s baseball mitt,” like a Swiss army knife ready to take on anything.
Benson was a late flip from South Dakota State during the recruiting process, and ended up playing in three games during his freshman year in 2018 before redshirting. He played in all 13 games in 2019, tallying six solo tackles and five assists.
“It makes you blessed for the opportunities you're given,” Benson said. “I think it puts a little chip on your shoulder that you’ve got to be the most fundamentally sound guy with the highest motor. Every day just continue to prove yourself.”
Campbell joins Benson as one of the seven sophomores who were named to the 2020 leadership group. As the Golden Hammer award-winner in high school, the Cedar Falls native was the top prep defensive player in the state in 2018, making him one of the most highly anticipated players on Iowa’s defense. He played in 11 games as a true freshman in 2019, tallying two solo tackles and three assists. In 2020, he played the final five games, recording 21 solo tackles and eight assists, with 4.5 tackles for loss and one sack. He also was an added piece to the pass coverage with three pass breakups.
“There’s something extra there, you just turn on the tape and watch the way that he practices and it's clear that there is a motor,” Wallace said. “There’s something tugging at his heart to get to the ball. We’re anxious to get him back out there.”
Iowa lost experience in players like Barrington Wade and Nick Niemann, so it’s expected to see a less-than-familiar face also playing at linebacker this fall. That face belongs to Jacobs, a sophomore who redshirted after enrolling early in spring 2019. In 2020, he saw limited game action, starting at weakside linebacker against Purdue, seeing some reps in games against Northwestern, Michigan State, Minnesota and Illinois. He had two solo tackles and two assists over the course of those games.
“Jacobs has made huge improvement in the past few days,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said after the final spring practice in May. “He needed this work so badly. He’s always been a good prospect, but he's turned into a pretty good player, he's developing some confidence too.”
Another possibility is seeing junior defensive back Dane Belton at the cash position, which is a hybrid outside linebacker and cover corner. Wallace said Iowa will add a cash player to make a 4-2-5 defense in 11 personnel situations, where offenses come with one back and one tight end. That cash player operates as an extra defensive back rather than a true 4-3, where he would remain at linebacker.
But in the 21 personnel world (two backs and one tight end), Iowa will reside in a true 4-3 defense.
“The asterisk is the complexion of the game,” Wallace said. “If we want a little bit more sturdiness in what we're trying to do defensively, regardless of personnel, then we're going to live in the three-linebacker world, but if it's more of the ball is just kind of passively ending up in different places. Then we're going to be inclined to try to put a better guy in space out there and see how he does coverage wise.”
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