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Cooper DeJean ‘keeps on rising’ as sophomore in Iowa football secondary
DeJean among fastest Hawkeyes on 2022 roster
Editor’s note: Sixth in a nine-part series looking at each Iowa football position ahead of the 2022 season.
IOWA CITY — Cooper DeJean has created a dilemma for the Iowa football staff, but it’s one that surely nobody will be complaining about.
Where do you play him?
“You can’t play him everywhere,” Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker said of the sophomore in the secondary.
Everywhere, if it were humanly possible, might be tempting.
“He's playing corner, he's playing safety,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said at media day. “We still haven't settled on one position with him. He seems to handle it well. Does a good job on special teams.”
He’s on Iowa’s preseason depth chart as the defensive back at the cash position and also the second-team strong safety. He also played a bit at cornerback in Iowa’s Citrus Bowl loss to Kentucky.
Special teams coordinator LeVar Woods has mentioned him as a candidate for returning duties. In the spring, Woods even floated the idea publicly of him working as field-goal holder.
As a true freshman, DeJean’s impact was much more noticeable on special teams than on defense. He played 102 snaps in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus, and 91 of those came on special teams.
But now — with safeties Dane Belton and Jack Koerner and cornerback Matt Hankins gone — the opportunity is there for DeJean to have a greater responsibility in the 2022 secondary.
DeJean said he’s “just been trying to attack every workout.” Unlike his 2021 fall camp, he also has the benefit of a year of experience at the college level.
“Obviously everything’s a little slower now,” DeJean said. “Last year, I didn’t really know that much when I was on the field.”
Iowa’s coaching staff has taken notice. Parker said DeJean “keeps on rising.”
Iowa strength and conditioning director Raimond Braithwaite said at media day DeJean is “one of the top five fastest guys on the team.”
“Cooper’s coming for a lot of records in the weight room,” Braithwaite said. “He’s genetically blessed. … He brings it every single day in the weight room — extremely serious and focused when it comes to training — and it carries over in what he’s doing on the field.”
Parker said DeJean was on the leaderboard for interceptions in fall camp.
“He’s a guy who can go play the ball well,” Parker said. “He sees things really well. He’s dynamic.”
Even some of DeJean’s plays in practice that resulted in a reception have impressed Iowa’s longtime defensive coordinator.
“There's some plays out there that he's really had tight coverage on some guys,” Parker said. “The offense executed, and they executed better, but if you look at it, you’d say that’s pretty good coverage.”
Ferentz has repeatedly brought up one play against Kentucky toward the end of the Citrus Bowl. Kentucky star wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson was wide open.
After Robinson’s catch, he evaded tackles from Riley Moss and Kaevon Merriweather — two experienced defensive backs — and made it look easy. A touchdown was within sight, but DeJean sprinted from the other side of the field to tackle him at the 1-yard-line.
“He went from over here to down there and knocked the guy out of bounds,” Ferentz said, gesturing as if Kinnick’s Pancha Club Room was the field at Camping World Stadium. “Gave us a chance to live to fight another day.”
The play eventually became a moot point when the Hawkeyes gave up the go-ahead touchdown, but the play had a lasting impression on the coaching staff.
“We couldn't get the job done, but to me that was kind of a signature play for him,“ Ferentz said. ”That's who he is. He's just not going to quit on a play.”
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