Iowa’s defense is probably going to look different from here on out.
Part of it has to do with injuries, but not in the way you might think. The depth chart Iowa released Monday shows a few injured players trickling back to action.
Outside linebacker sets up to be a good problem.
Sophomore Nick Niemann is back on the depth chart after suffering a knee injury against Wisconsin on Sept. 22. Sophomore Barrington Wade is listed as the starter, but don’t read too deeply into that, either.
Junior strong safety Amani Hooker went the whole way at outside linebacker in the Hawkeyes’ 42-16 victory last week at Indiana. Wade played one snap.
With Hooker hanging out at OLB, sophomore Geno Stone played 70 snaps at strong safety. His third quarter interception stemmed the push the Hoosiers made in the second half. He also had five tackles, a tackle for loss and forced a fumble.
Niemann was one of Iowa’s top defenders before his injury. So now, Iowa has three players for two positions. Flexibility comes with that, and now you see defensive coordinator Phil Parker rotating personnel on a more regular basis.
Parker called this move back in April. Responding to a question about Iowa’s defensive scheme — a 4-3 that can morph into a 4-2-5 with nickel and dime possibiilites — Parker said this about Ben Niemann, Nick’s brother and a three-year starter at OLB for the Hawkeyes and a current Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, “He was a safety.”
“At some point in time, we’re trying to keep on building if we can get a guy in there maybe like Amani Hooker, which I’m not saying he’s moving there, but that would be a type of guy that you’d want to put out there in certain personnel groupings,” Parker said during his spring news conference. “But you wouldn’t want to put him in that situation if you’re playing 21 personnel, if you’re playing 22 personnel or 12 personnel. You probably wouldn’t want to do that.”
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Translation: Against spread offenses, you’re probably going to see a safety sliding into the OLB spot and that safety is probably going to be Hooker.
Parker had clearly done a long view of the 2018 schedule. Wisconsin and Northern Illinois were the power teams on the schedule. Iowa State brought running back David Montgomery to Kinnick Stadium. Iowa played strong personnel and held Montgomery to 2.6 yards on 17 carries.
From here on out, Iowa faces teams that feature spread offenses.
“I think at least we feel confident in Nick and I think we’re gaining confidence in Barrington, and we’re gaining confidence in Geno, too, so it gives you a little option in terms of what you want to do when you play teams that play with one tight end and three receivers or more than three receivers,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I think the more versatile you can be, the better off you are, but that’s something we haven’t done a lot of quite frankly.”
— Speaking of linebacker and things that were out there this spring, junior Kristian Welch seems headed toward a start at middle linebacker this week.
Welch competed with junior Amani Jones in the spring. Jones won the job. Jones lost the job three series into the opener. Senior Jack Hockaday took over. He suffered a knee injury at Minnesota. Ferentz said in the Indiana postgame Hockaday should be able to return this week or next.
Welch got the shot last week after Jones was disqualified from the first half after a targeting foul in the fourth quarter against Minnesota.
Welch had eight tackles and was stellar in pass coverage with a breakup.
— No. 22 Iowa’s game next week at No. 16 Penn State will be a 2:30 p.m. kick on ABC or ESPN.
This week, the Hawkeyes play host to Maryland 11 a.m. at Kinnick Stadium. It’s an ESPN2 telecast.
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— Fun stat time: Iowa punter Colten Rastetter, arguably the most improved player on the team next to pass protection, averages 43.3 per punt.
That should be No. 3 in the Big Ten, but Rastetter averages only 3.2 punts a game. Punters need to have played in 75 percent of games and have a minimum of 3.6 punts per game played. Iowa has punted just 21 times this year. That’s 13th in the Big Ten. Michigan has just 20 punts.
— Quarterback Nate Stanley earned co-Big Ten offensive player of the week for his performance at Indiana last week.
He completed 21 of 33 pass attempts against Indiana for 320 yards and six touchdowns. The scores covered 9, 28, 12, 11, 54 and 4 yards and included five different receivers.
This is Stanley’s second Big Ten weekly award. Iowa’s last Big Ten offensive player of the week was Akrum Wadley after 159 yards and three TDs vs. Nebraska last season.
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