116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa has 12 linebackers, including seven who have seen the field before.
But assistant defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Seth Wallace doesn’t consider them “veterans.”
“If you were to ask me the question of how many starts they had, I don't know that it would fit the term ’veteran,’” Wallace said. “We've got eight starts total between the group. There's only two on the roster that have more than 100 reps logged defensively.”
Junior Seth Benson is among the most experienced, playing in three games as a true freshman, then all 13 as a sophomore and, more recently, starting the final seven games last year, earning honorable mention all-Big Ten with 26 solo tackles, 21 assists, with three for loss, and two sacks.
“I had spring ball the first year I was here,” Benson said on Tuesday. “It’s a time of fundamentals and pushing things forward.”
Junior Dane Belton is the next big name in the pack. He played eight games in 2019, and his 2020 performance of 19 solo tackles, 14 assists, 1.5 for loss, and one sack earned all-Big Ten honorable mention.
Last in line for the most experienced juniors is Jack Campbell, who has two years of substantial game action under his belt, playing 11 games in 2019, then five last year, when he tallied 29 tackles, including 21 solo with 4.5 for loss and one sack.
Junior Logan Klemp played in four games last year, recording one solo tackle. Junior Mike Timm played in all eight games last season, collecting three solo tackles and one assist. Sophomores Jestin Jacobs and Jay Higgins saw some game action last year, enough for the letterwinner asterisk next to their names.
Then there’s the rest — like redshirt freshmen Wyatt Wegener and Josef Smith and true freshmen Eric Epenesa, Zach Twedt and Justice Sullivan.
Iowa loses Nick Niemann and Barrington Wade, and while the number of returners is encouraging, Wallace said, numbers can’t be confused with depth. The redshirt freshmen joined the program last August, while even juniors like Klem and Timm or sophomores like Jacobs and Higgins have seen limited action.
“When you lack experience depth-wise, the challenge then becomes can we create positional flexibility?” Wallace said. “Where you see this happening, more so within our program, is on our offensive line, where you probably see a guard that has tackle potential or you probably see a guard that has center potential or vice versa.
“That's what we're trying to create right now linebacker-wise.”
That’s done by rotational drills. Benson has played mainly middle linebacker, but switches with Campbell to the outside.
“Coach was just telling us to rotate so he can put us in uncomfortable situations so we can learn from it,” Benson said. “Then once something happens, coming to the sideline and (Campbell) tells me what he sees and then I'll tell him what I see. And we kind of put that together and then repetition after repetition, I can kind of think of what Jack sees here, he knows what I'm seeing there.”
Wallace described the 9-on-7 running drill as having four defensive linemen up front, then three linebackers — Jacobs at Leo, Campbell at Mike and Benson at Will, then rotating the three.
"The comfort of sitting in your own love seat at home is the comfort that you would want to have as a linebacker,’’ Wallace said. “The uncomfort is when you’re sitting in the middle linebacker position and on the next play, you have to go sit in the Will linebacker position which forces you to put your eyes in different places.”
Sometimes, though, players aren’t uncomfortable in these new roles. Wallace reminded everyone of the moment Josey Jewell moved from outside to inside linebacker during the 2017 game against Northwestern.
And the versatility is what allows the Hawkeyes to change according to their opponents’ styles. Against teams like Illinois, which featured a more spread offense, he said he would put Campbell in the middle and Jacobs and Benson on the perimeter, but against a “downhill” running team that likes to play the edge, he would move Campbell to a Leo position to put him closer to he line of scrimmage in a 3-4 defensive scheme.
So far, Wallace said, his starting three linebackers include Jacobs, Campbell and Benson.
The depth may not be there now, but that’s what spring football is for.
“I don’t want to have a guy with limited experience to have to jump in there,” Wallace said. “What we’re trying to do is create that experience by moving some guys around.”
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