Iowa Football

4 Downs with Iowa's secondary: Competition all over the place

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker liked what he saw in camp, and now it's decision time

Matt Hankins is photographed during Iowa football media day. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Matt Hankins is photographed during Iowa football media day. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

A closer look at the Iowa defensive backs heading into the 2019 season.

The cornerbacks — Michael Ojemudia (6-1, 200, sr.), Matt Hankins (6-0, 185, jr.), Julius Brents (6-3, 203, so.), Riley Moss (6-1, 190, so.), Jermari Harris (6-1, 177, fr.), Daraun McKinney (5-10, 185, fr.)

The safeties — Geno Stone (5-10, 210, jr.), Kaevon Merriweather (6-0, 210, so.), Jack Koerner (6-0, 204, so.), Dane Belton (6-1, 190, fr.), Dallas Craddieth (5-11, 205, #fr.), Devonte Young (6-0, 203, sr.), Sebastian Castro (5-11, 195, fr.)

The cash — D.J. Johnson (5-10, 183), Terry Roberts (5-10, 176, #fr.)

First Down

Iowa’s cornerback position in 2018 was wavy because of injury. Not “wavy” as in the play was off, but “wavy” in that it had two sets of starters who were in and out of the plans simultaneously.

For the first four games of the season, Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins played nearly every snap, including 100 percent each against Iowa State. Then, Hankins suffered leg and wrist injuries; Ojemudia suffered a leg injury. So the next five games went to true freshmen Riley Moss and Julius Brents.

Because he also played special teams, Moss played 102 percent of snaps in a couple of games. This duo played 100 percent of the corner snaps for three consecutive games — Indiana, Maryland and Penn State. Purdue was tough. Brents was hit with a late pass interference. Moss was picked on in coverage.

By this time, Hankins and Ojemudia recovered from injuries and basically tagged back in. Over the last four games, Ojemudia and Hankins were the starters. Moss kept a line in the water, seeing a trickle of snaps on special teams and in nickel. Brents suffered an injury and the bench got a little shorter.

Still, this was one of those situations where injuries helped younger players gain experience. Should make for an interesting, flexible and experienced corner group in 2019.

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“I think they can go in there and help us win games,” defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. “They’ve started four or five games as true freshmen, that’s hard to do. Now, with the maturity level, I think they’re going to help us out a lot.”

Second Down

So, where did Brents go? He went from playing 100 percent of the snaps at corner to no participation. Yes, he was hurt.

“I had a little setback with a couple injuries here and there,” Brents said. “Coach (Phil) Parker put the guys out there he thought were best for the team.”

Right now, Brents is working at corner and seeing some time at the cash position. No, he didn’t get taller, but as a 6-3 corner, he knew that question was coming.

“I’m listed at 6-3, but it might be the hair,” Brents joked.

But seriously on the height thing ...

“I definitely use that to my advantage,” said Brents, who finished with an interception and three pass breakups. “I like to use my hands. That comes with the height.”

Third Down

One depth-chart climber in camp has been safety Jack Koerner, a 6-0, 204-pound walk-on from Des Moines. He didn’t log a snap last season, but Parker said the light turned on in camp.

“He’s made some plays,” Parker said. “I wouldn’t say Jake Gervase (two-year starter who’s now with the Rams), but there are similarities. I like the way he competes and thinks about things. Any time you have a little chip on your shoulder, it helps you.”

For what it’s worth, going into game week, Parker still sees a lot of competition with some decisions on playing time and freshman redshirts still to be determined.

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“I don’t have anything really nailed down yet,” he said. “Here in another week or so, I’m going to start making decisions on who’s going to be the guy and they have to get the reps.”

Fourth Down

Redshirt freshman D.J. Johnson has hung on to the cash position through spring. Parker said this week that he’s still hanging on, but, as things go in fall camp, there still is a lot of mixing and matching.

Johnson also has seen some time at corner.

“We’re very happy with what he’s doing,’ Parker said. “He’s learning every day out there, but he’s getting better and he’s maturing. He’s looking good there. We will have other guys working there.”

Johnson likes the way the cash position fits his skill set. One wrinkle is potential blitzes coming from the cash. Johnson said he’s keyed on timing his blitzes and loves coming off the edge and making plays.

“You can do a lot at that position and I love it,” the Indianapolis, Ind., native said. “It’s a complex position. You’ve got to be able to do a lot and you’ve got to be a smart guy to play it.”

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

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