116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
No. 25 ... Nate Meier (6-2, 244) comes into his junior year with his goal set on becoming more of a full-service defensive end. Last season, he was used in third-down situations and recorded two sacks and a couple of quarterback hurries. It's not a huge resume, but we are talking about the No. 3 defensive end and one who lost a lot of his true freshman season to injury and who wears No. 34, showing that he indeed started his career as a running back.
'I would say that Nate Meier is a tough son of a gun,” defensive line coach Reese Morgan said. 'He's really doing things where he's a 235-, 240-pound guy taking on a 300-pound tackle, and I think he's demonstrated to us that he can be an every down guy.”
What are the expectations for the defensive ends this season? Last year, Iowa anchored around junior Drew Ott and senior Mike Hardy. They were adept at setting an edge against the run. Ott showed some push in the pass rush, but pass rush lacked consistency. That led to the 'Raider” rush package in third-down passing situations, and it worked well enough. This year?
'We're playing with guys who, No. 1, take care of their job,” Morgan said. 'They have a run responsibility. They have a key they're going to read. They have a certain way they're going to take on blocks and get off blocks. That's the No. 1 thing.”
If you talk to Meier, Ott and Hardy, you'd be struck by the size difference. Ott and Hardy are full-sized DE; Meier is working on the trust coaches need to see for him to play first and second downs (which are clearly held in a different regard, more of running downs, than third down to Iowa coaches).
The work continues ... Meier played as a true freshman while coming out of an eight-man football program at Fremont-Mills in southwest Iowa. So, the leap he made was significant. His body and his ability are starting to settle in for the long haul.
'I think Nate has earned the trust and confidence,” Morgan said. 'Right now, there's probably 11 guys where you say I think in some way, shape, or form, these guys have an opportunity to get on the field and be successful, but they have to demonstrate it in practice situations, scrimmage situations.”
Other potential defensive ends ...
Let's sort through some of the names who could matter here:
Junior Riley McMinn - He's 6-7, 265 pounds. He might be the exact kind of help (not to mention body) that could push Iowa defensive end forward. The 'but” here is that McMinn has missed most of the last two seasons to injury (sports hernia and shoulder). He hasn't played very much, so it's impossible to know what he's capable of.
Junior Melvin Spears - The 6-2, 268 converted from linebacker to defensive end early in his career and has yet to make a push for playing time. He's probably a long shot for the rotation.
Junior Dean Tsopanides - The 6-2, 275-pounder likely will have at least a one-game suspension to deal with after an offseason OWI arrest. He also is on the outside looking in as far as playing time.
Freshman Matt Nelson - The 6-8, 255-pounder from Cedar Rapids probably is looking at a redshirt season. He'll need to build his body and get used to the college game. Morgan isn't looking for him to see playing time. 'He's shown some things on tape that are pretty good,” Morgan said. 'Gosh, we hope that we don't have to, but if there is a freshman, him or somebody else, that comes in and demonstrates that they've earn the opportunity, the right to at least take a look at and get some reps with the first or second group, that certainly could be a possibility.
'It would be a disrespectful for our current players to say we're counting on a guy that's a freshman coming in and playing because everything has to be earned.”
Sophomore Reggie Spearman - He played defensive end in the Raider package last season, but that's not really defensive end. It's about 5 percent of what Iowa asks out of the position. And he's a linebacker. Not happening.
This might come down to Meier and McMinn for the backup spots behind Ott and Hardy. In fact, it's hard to see a scenario where it doesn't end up in that order. With defensive coordinator Phil Parker already having said Iowa will look to use third-down rush packages this season, Meier becomes an intriguing player.
With his skill set, you would think he'll be in on that and, probably, more as a No. 2 DE.
'One thing about Nate Meier is we know he's tough, and he was a little bit underweight last year and learning the position,” Parker said. 'I think he's really gotten better playing blocks ... I think Nate put on a little bit of extra weight, is a little bit more active.
'It's going to be a good battle. Our decision isn't made up yet, but he's going to have to play on first and second down, too. McMinn has to show up and be the fourth, or if we start putting another linebacker down and obviously third-down situations.”
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