IOWA CITY — If Djimon Colbert misses an assignment, picks the wrong gap, blows a play, please forgive him. You need to consider the circumstances.
This linebacker thing is all new to him.
The redshirt freshman got his first start for the Iowa Hawkeyes last Saturday against Iowa State. His first real playing time.
That’s at a position he has never played in his life. Not growing up, not in high school, not in his first year at Iowa.
The kid was a cornerback as a freshman in high school, then moved to safety. That’s what Iowa recruited him as, someone who wanted to be like Bob Sanders.
“I was kind of nervous when they first switched me,” Colbert said. “It was like ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m 10 feet closer to the ball now.’ So I was a little nervous at first. Coach (Seth) Wallace did a good job of getting me into the groove and getting the feel of the defense. I think the guys around me: Amani Jones, Kristian Welch, Aaron Mends, who I went to high school with, all did a great job of welcoming me into the group and just treating me as family.”
Colbert graduated from Bishop Miege High School on the Kansas side of Kansas City, a two-way standout who also played wide receiver.
“I came in here at 212 pounds, 213, so there was a little chatter (right away) about me being a linebacker,” Colbert said. “But I went through my whole first summer here being a safety. I started gaining weight right before camp, so they told me I was going to be a linebacker.
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“When I first got there, it was like ‘Oh, here we go.’ But once I got out there, I realized it was kind of fun. You get to fly around to the ball, make plays. I enjoy it.”
Colbert played late in Iowa’s opener two weeks ago against Northern Illinois but got the starting nod at weakside linebacker last week because of an injury to Welch. He acquitted himself nicely, flowing well to the football and recording five tackles.
He certainly didn’t look out of place.
His previous experience covering receivers helped Iowa stay in a base defense the entire game against Iowa State, which got just 188 total yards. All-Big 12 Conference running back David Montgomery was limited to just 44 yards rushing.
“I thought he did a lot of good things,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “He looked confident, first of all, which is not always the case for a guy. He hasn’t played at all, so for him to be out there doing that, that was really good.”
Iowa’s entire linebacking group is new this season, but has more than held its own in the early going. The effectiveness of the defensive line has a lot to do with that, but Niemann, Welch and Jack Hockaday have been very solid.
So was Colbert last week. He is listed as the starter going into Saturday’s game against Northern Iowa.
”It goes back to the game-exposure thing,” Ferentz said. “You’re just never quite sure how a guy is going to react, and that’s a big game for us ... So he could have shrunk, but I didn’t see him do that. He was running around making some plays and looked confident and looked comfortable for a guy who’s never really played a significant amount of snaps. So it’s a real good starting point for him certainly.”
“Man, it was crazy,” Colbert said. “First getting on the field and looking around, it was like ‘Wow. It’s real.’ It was fun, I enjoyed it. I got on the field last week, but it was at the end of the game. And just the fact that it was Iowa State this week, that was big time. Came out, had fun, moved around a lot and got the job done.”
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By the way, the 6-foot-1 Colbert is up to 235 pounds now, meaning he has packed on 20-plus from when he first stepped on campus last year. He has the size to play linebacker.
It’s the experience now that he’s got to get.
“Just being closer to the ball and making those different reads is the biggest difference (from playing safety),” Colbert said. “You have to make reads a lot faster down in the box. That was the biggest thing I had to get used to. Like I said, it took awhile for me to get used to it all, but once it clicked, knowing the defense and knowing where the defensive line is supposed to be, that was a big step for me. It was all pretty important. Once it started to click, that’s when it started to get fun.”
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