A closer look at the Iowa defensive linemen heading into the 2019 season.
The DTs — Cedrick Lattimore (6-3, 295, sr.), Brady Reiff (6-3, 277, sr.), Daviyon Nixon (6-3, 309, so.), Noah Shannon (6-0, 294, #fr.), Austin Schulte (6-4, 287, jr.), Dalles Jacobus (6-0, 285, jr.), Logan Lee (6-5, 251, fr.)
The DEs — A.J. Epenesa (6-6, 280, jr.), Chauncey Golston (6-5, 270, jr.), John Waggoner (6-5, 270, #fr.), Amani Jones (5-11, 244, sr.), Joe Evans (6-2, 240, #fr.), Zach VanValkenburg (6-4, 270, jr.)
The happiest player on media day was defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon.
Originally part of Iowa’s 2017 recruiting class, Nixon went through two seasons of academic limbo and actually entered the transfer portal last winter.
It couldn’t have been easy. It had to take a good deal of fortitude, and yet he said he didn’t waver with the Hawkeyes.
“I never questioned the path I was on,” Nixon said. “My faith in the good Lord and my ability to be here and him giving me the good graces and blessing to be here on this field and practice with these types of guys, I would say no, I never lost faith in what I had and the sight I had of playing for this team.”
Nixon is a fully matured 300-pound body. Beyond the obvious, what does he feels like he brings to the Hawkeyes?
“I bring energy, I bring a lot of energy and a lot of happiness,” Nixon said. “I bring smiles and stuff like that, that’s my biggest thing. I especially try to do that with the defensive line. We’re always so angry. I try to make them laugh as much as I can.”
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Yes, there’s this. Nixon hasn’t played in a game since the 2017 Graphic Edge Bowl. Hey, he did get an offer from Alabama after his one season at Iowa Western Community College.
“I was happy. That’s the school everyone wants to get an offer from, that’s the biggest school in college football, a lot of people would say,” Nixon said. “I was happy, who wouldn’t be happy? The first thing I did was called my coaches here and let them know. ‘Hey, I just got an offer from Alabama.’ They said, ‘Congratulations, but, you know, we’ve been here.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m still here.’”
Let’s check out defensive tackle snap counts from last season. It will show the experience that left the Hawkeyes after 2018 and the assignment ahead.
Matt Nelson and Sam Brincks combined for 919 snaps last year. Lattimore and Reiff saw rotational action. Last season, that was two series for Nelson and Brincks and one series for the second rotation of D-linemen (basically, this also was the pitch count for Epenesa).
Lattimore and Reiff combined for 483 snaps in 2018. All the other contenders at this position? Zero. Tyler Linderbaum took his 18 snaps to the center position.
“Ced and Brady complement each other so much,” D-line coach Kelvin Bell said. “They don’t have as many starts between them as you think they would, but they’ve seen a lot of football. This is Brady’s fifth year, Ced’s fourth. That’s a lot of practices, a lot of scouting reports.
“They’re going to be vital for us. Any good defense starts up the middle and it starts with those two guys.”
True freshman Logan Lee signed with the Hawkeyes as a tight end in December. News leaked out that the Hawkeyes wanted him to switch to defensive line, and Lee totally embraced it.
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It was assumed that he might be a defensive end. Maybe he still ends up there. But in the Kids Day scrimmage on Aug. 10, Lee rotated in with Nixon, Schulte and Shannon at defensive tackle.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz has noticed.
“He’s a really conscientious young guy, obviously a good athlete, good football player and wrestler in high school,” Ferentz said. “He takes coaching very well. He’s an intent listener. You see it show up in his play. He’s done a lot of nice things in practice.”
Next time Ferentz speaks, he’ll probably list a few true freshmen who’ll play in 2019. Lee might make that list.
When Bell met with the media this spring, it was his first as D-line coach. He introduced the idea of “edge defenders,” a player who might be able to do more than play a traditional “defensive end” spot. So far, that’s produced Amani Jones and Joe Evans as potential backups.
The hybrid position is on the weakside and not counted in what the coaches consider the “heavy five” of the run defense. So why? Good, quick feet and disciplined eyes on the backside can shut down any reversing field and, this is the bigger deal probably, it gets bodies to the football.
“They’re extremely athletic and freakishly strong,” Epenesa said. “They get after it. You can always rely on them to run to the ball, get to where they need to go and to play hard. They take pride in playing hard and that’s what they do well.”
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