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Finding its best linebackers an important thing this spring for Iowa football team
Lots of inexperience at the position for the Hawkeyes
IOWA CITY — Jack Campbell is gone. Seth Benson is gone.
You all know that.
“I miss those guys, for sure,” defensive lineman Joe Evans said, after his Iowa football team concluded practice Thursday morning. “Jack is one of my best friends, Seth is one of my best friends. I came in with Seth, Jack came in the year after I did. Having them around was always nice. So, yeah, it has been weird.
“But I am excited to see what these linebackers can do this year.”
Everyone is, actually. Iowa’s defense has a lot of experience virtually everywhere except that position.
Butkus Award winner Campbell is on to the NFL after an incredible Hawkeyes career. Benson was a very productive starter as well. Jestin Jacobs was expected to be a starter this year but surprisingly entered the transfer portal and ended up at Oregon.
All-ACC linebacker Nick Jackson tags in this summer as a graduate transfer from Virginia. You’d have to think he’s a lock to be a starter.
So this spring is about potentially cementing that other starter and developing some depth.
“We definitely lost some leadership,” said Iowa’s Jay Higgins. “That’s why guys like myself have to step up; Kyler Fisher, the older linebackers in the room. We understand what we lost, and we understand where we need to be. I feel like that’s important for us.
“I mean, I’ve been learning from Jack for the last three years. Him leaving just gave me the opportunity to continue what he focused on and what he taught me. Now it’s my job to teach it to the younger backers.”
⧉ Related article: Photos: Iowa football spring practice
Iowa’s initial spring depth chart listed Higgins, a senior from Indianapolis, as a starter in the middle, backed up by sophomore Jaden Harrell. Higgins essentially was Iowa’s No. 3 linebacker last season, while Harrell has little playing experience.
Sophomore Karson Sharar, another inexperienced guy, was listed as starting weakside backer, with senior Fisher his backup. Walk-on Kelby Telander, who hasn’t played a snap, was listed as top option at the Leo position, when Iowa goes with a three-linebacker look.
Sebastian Castro has starting experience at the cash position, when Iowa wants a five-DB look.
“It’s been great so far,” said Harrell, from Urbandale. “Obviously people are playing all the different positions, all three linebacker spots. Having that in the back of your mind pushes you harder. Knowing that all three spots are kind of open right now makes everybody work harder, and as a corps, we’ll get better.”
“We’re just trying to keep it competitive, and I feel like (linebackers) Coach (Seth) Wallace does a good job of doing that,” Higgins said. “Just like all springs, we’re playing all positions. I’m playing Mike backer, I’m playing Will, I’m playing Leo. When your room is able to rotate at every position at linebacker, it keeps guys on their toes. When it comes to the depth chart, we preach that we’re going to go with the best linebacker that’s available.”
The strong bet is Higgins will be one of those. He had 39 tackles last season, including 11 (six solo) in a win at Northwestern.
“Spring ball is the best opportunity for a young guy,” Higgins said. “Right now we’re playing Iowa versus Iowa. We don’t have a scout team, everybody is getting an opportunity. There are plenty of reps ... Spring ball is important for the individual. We’ve got young linebackers who are getting an opportunity for the first time. It’s good to see them out there.
“Karson Sharar, it’s good to see that kid out there. I just know how hard he works. I know how mature he (is getting). It’s just good to see people getting the opportunity they deserve.”
The Hawkeyes have multiple pieces up front on the line. The starters in the secondary are pretty much cemented, though depth is a question mark.
If guys like Higgins, Jackson, Sharar, Harrell, etc., do their things, this should be yet another exceptional Iowa defense.
“For me, I’m super focused on the D-line, but I’ve seen some great things, great communication from them,” Evans said. “They’re coming out and giving great effort. Just a great group of guys ... I’m really excited to see them continue to improve.”
“We have standards for a reason, and the standards need to be met,” Higgins said. “Nothing shy of the standard is acceptable. We’ve got plenty of talent, plenty of guys returning ...”