Iowa Football

4 Downs with Iowa's linebackers: 1 less job; still tons of competition

The Nick Niemann and Djimon Colbert battle on the weakside will be an interesting one

Iowa linebacker Dijimon Colbert (32) chats with teammates during the 2019 University of Iowa Football Media Day in Iowa City on Friday, August 9, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa linebacker Dijimon Colbert (32) chats with teammates during the 2019 University of Iowa Football Media Day in Iowa City on Friday, August 9, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

A closer look at the Iowa linebackers heading into the 2019 season

Middle linebackers — Kristian Welch (6-3, 239, sr.), Dillon Doyle (6-3, 235, #fr.), Yahweh Jeudy (6-0, 201, fr.)

Weakside linebackers — Djimon Colbert (6-1, 235, so.), Seth Benson (6-0, 227, #fr.), Mike Timm (6-0, 229, #fr.)

Outside linebackers — Nick Niemann (6-4, 235, jr.), Barrington Wade (6-1, 236, jr.), Logan Klemp (6-2, 228, #fr.), Jestin Jacobs (6-4, 220, fr.)

First Down

This is where Iowa’s move last season to a 4-2-5 defense needs to be discussed.

After the Wisconsin game last season, the outside linebacker position wasn’t exactly decommissioned, but the plant had a layoff. Wisconsin caught Iowa trying to cover a wide receiver with an outside linebacker and beat the Hawkeyes. After that game, you started hearing about the “cash” and “star” positions. That was a defensive back. Last year, it was safety Amani Hooker. He thrived in the new role, earned Big Ten defensive back of the year and left a year early for the NFL.

This winter, head coach Kirk Ferentz said the 4-2-5 was part of the Hawkeyes’ DNA. Yes, that leaves Iowa with a lot of linebackers. Coaches have said that’s great, they’ll find work for them on special teams. Two linebackers — Amani Jones and Joe Evans — moved over to hybrid defensive end spots along the D-line. In mid-August, redshirt freshman Jayden McDonald entered his name into the transfer portal.

The Hawkeyes have nine underclassmen at linebacker, with one committed linebacker for the 2020 class. The staff is likely figuring out what number is going to work here.

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Also, the outside linebacker spot isn’t completely paved over. There’s always going to be Wisconsin, which lined up O-linemen at tight end against Iowa fronts last season.

“The nice thing is we’re facing Iowa every single day in practice,” linebackers coach Seth Wallace said. “There are a lot of similarities between Iowa and Wisconsin. We do have a third linebacker on the field a good deal of the time, so they are getting those reps. I would argue are we getting enough reps for the cash right now.”

During the Kids Day scrimmage on Aug. 10, the linebackers were Kristian Welch in the middle, Djimon Colbert on weakside and Nick Niemann outside.

Second Down

Here’s something intriguing from Wallace. He was asked about first-year linebackers Jack Campbell, Yahweh Jeudy and Jestin Jacobs and he was pretty positive.

“I hate to say it this early because we’re only seven days into it, but they’re great to have on the field, they’re great young men,” Wallace said. “They’re working hard, they’re invested. They’re certainly very green at this point. They’re eager, they’re willing and more important than willing, they ‘want’ go out there, they want to do well and they want to know why.

“That’s really helping us, and to be honest with you, five or six practices from now, those guys might apply some pressure to the depth chart. Maybe not the starting positions, but they might be applying some pressure to our backups.”

Campbell is 6-4, 218 pounds from Cedar Falls. Jeudy was a late signing in February and a former Kansas State commit. Jacobs is from Edgewood, Ohio, and stuck with the Hawkeyes despite a late offer from Ohio State.

Third Down

With Reese Morgan’s retirement, the Hawkeyes found a familiar face to assist Kelvin Bell on the defensive line. Jay Niemann, a native Iowan and former linebacker at Iowa State, was hired in April. Yes, he’s the father of current Iowa linebacker Nick Niemann and former Iowa linebacker and Kansas City Chief Ben Niemann. Niemann was defensive coordinator at Rutgers.

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“My family is here and I’ve already gotten to see them more and that wasn’t easy when he was always out coaching,” Nick Niemann said. “Getting to see him every day is something really special.”

Said Jay Niemann, “Having the opportunity to be around my son on a daily basis is huge bonus and something we’re really appreciative of.”

Remember, Nick Niemann suffered a knee injury last season that kept him out for two games. With Niemann out, Colbert saw the most pass coverage snaps for returning linebackers at 295. The weakside position could come down between these two. Colbert saw the second most snaps of any Iowa linebacker last season (597), but was on the field less than Niemann against Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl.

Fourth Down

As you might imagine, the 4-2-5 thing changed Iowa’s tackle chart drastically last season.

Since 2009, a linebacker had led Iowa in tackles in eight of nine seasons. All of the linebacker names you know — Josey Jewell (three times), Anthony Hitchens (twice), Christian Kirksey and Pat Angerer. The lone exception was 2014, when safety John Lowdermilk led the Hawkeyes with 103 tackles (linebacker Quinton Alston was second with 94).

Free safety Jake Gervase led Iowa last season with 89 tackles. Safety Amani Hooker was second with 65.

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

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