Iowa Football

Checking in with Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace

It's always going to be a weird year when a portrait player moves on and change isn't going away

Iowa linebacker coach Seth Wallace works with the team during warm ups prior to the Hawkeyes' game against Miami (OH) at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, September 3, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa linebacker coach Seth Wallace works with the team during warm ups prior to the Hawkeyes' game against Miami (OH) at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, September 3, 2016. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
/

IOWA CITY — Of course, Seth Wallace wasn’t bored last year. There’s just nothing static about the game of football.

It sure helped that a consensus All-American and one of the best to put shoulder pads on for the Hawkeyes was solidly planted at middle linebacker.

Life after Josey Jewell was going to be an adventure no matter what.

In 2017, the Iowa linebacker corps went through one lineup change. Jewell suffered a shoulder injury against Illinois and missed the next game at Northwestern.

This season was much, much different.

The Hawkeyes endured seven lineups. The changes were caused by everything from performance to injury to matching personnel groups.

“You guys obviously saw the growing pains that took place,” said Wallace, a Coe graduate from Grinnell. “I don’t want to say we overperformed at that position, but I do think from an expectation standpoint, from the injuries and the different starting lineups and just the mix and match, there were some real positive things that have obviously given us a jump-start going into the next year.”

First, Amani Jones’ stay as the starter at middle linebacker lasted less than a dozen snaps into the season.

In game 1 against Northern Illinois, Jones was out of place for two explosive runs and covered the wrong receiver on a play that allowed a third-down conversion. He was replaced by senior Jack Hockaday.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Jones spent some time in the lineup at Minnesota, but he never regained that footing. To his credit, he remained a key cog on special teams. Wallace had his back from there.

“The situation wasn’t ideal, obviously,” Wallace said. “It wasn’t necessarily something we predicted, either, but it was something we had to go through, it was something I had to go through from a coaching standpoint.”

Jones is a charismatic energy player. He’s one of the Hawkeyes whose weight-room feats find their way to video.

“He’s one of our hardest workers,” Wallace said. “He’s a Hawkeye, through and through. I would say the one thing to speak to his character was the way that he did handle it. He was still an exceptional special teams player. Very supportive on the sideline and with his teammates even after he lost that starting role.”

The door is open for another shot, Wallace said.

Also in game 1, Kristian Welch suffered an injury and missed the Iowa State game, sending redshirt freshman Djimon Colbert in on the weakside. With inside linebackers making their first starts, Iowa held ISU to 188 yards of offense, its lowest output since 174 against Baylor in 2013 (a span of 55 games).

Colbert went on to start nine games this season.

“Going into the season, I don’t know that I would’ve predicted in August that Djimon would’ve been in that position,” Wallace said. “You do have to think about the fact that he was a redshirt freshman. The expectations continued to grow and maybe they exceeded, on my end, or were set too high for a redshirt freshman, but he did some really good things for us. There were obviously some things that I think we’ve got improve at that position, but moving forward, looking at a young man like that, we’ve got three years left with this kid. He’s got to play a bigger role moving forward.”

Sophomore Nick Niemann’s season is a perfect representation of Iowa linebacker 2018.

Against Wisconsin, the outside linebacker suffered a PCL injury and missed four games. He started the first four games of the season and then just one more, against Nebraska in the finale.

When asked about Niemann’s shrinking role during the season, head coach Kirk Ferentz called him one of the better players on the team.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

What happened, after the Wisconsin game — which was the usual thumb war between Iowa and Wisconsin — defensive coordinator Phil Parker relied much more heavily on a 4-2-5 alignment. The rest of Iowa’s schedule was spread offenses that mostly came out of 11 personnel (one back, one tight end). Parker wanted to defend better in space, and it worked.

Safety Amani Hooker assumed the “star” role, a hybrid safety/linebacker position. He owned the position and was named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. Niemann eventually started seeing time on the inside.

Wallace made some salient points about the 4-2-5 lean.

“It’s not a permanent personnel, it’s a personnel based on the offense’s personnel,” Wallace said. “You’ve got to be able to have both. We’re certainly seeing more of the one back stuff more than the Big Ten has probably ever seen in the history of this league.

“It’s what we have to do. It did provide us with a little bit of an edge during the course of the season.”

Wallace said Hooker was the right choice for the role. It also allowed a way to get safety Geno Stone on the field.

This statement from Wallace further solidifies the thought that, ‘yeah, that 4-2-5 thing worked:’

“There were things we got caught on a couple of times, but we were caught less with him out there than I think we would’ve been having a linebacker out there playing some of those coverages,” Wallace said.

Where does it go from here? For the Outback Bowl, Hooker probably stays in that role, if Parker chooses to match personnel. Beyond?

Wallace said the position will need to be developed.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“I think we’ve got some guys coming in we’ve identified with this year’s recruiting class who are going to provide us with that flexibility, but they’re going to have to be developed,” Wallace said.

How much this becomes an element in Iowa’s defense also remains to be seen.

“It’s definitely a conversation we’ve had, and we’ll pick it back up in January,” Ferentz said. “A lot of it has to do with what personnel groups are out there on the field, and we probably need to sit back and look at that a little bit.

“Amani and Geno gave us — the combination of those two guys — the ability to play a little differently maybe than we have in the past. So, if we want to go down that road, that might help steer where we go with the next scholarship if we choose to use one on defense (referring to the February signing period).”

Change showed up on a lot of fronts for Iowa linebacker 2018. It’s not going away in 2019.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.