Iowa Football

Iowa DBs Michael Ojemudia and Geno Stone take their Phil Parker training to the NFL combine

The Hawkeye duo has a ton to offer the NFL, including versatility and special teams, and, yes, they're wondering about their 40s

Iowa defensive back Geno Stone speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Fr
Iowa defensive back Geno Stone speaks during a press conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa defensive backs won’t catch Iowa offensive linemen for the “most drafted” position group in Kirk Ferentz’s 22-plus years as Iowa’s head coach.

The score going into April’s draft is 17 for the O-linemen and 14 for the defensive backs. Here at the combine this week, offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs talked about having 20 formal interviews, a sure sign of a first rounder. So, score another one for sure for the OL.

Iowa’s defensive backs have a chance to close the gap, though. Friday at the NFL combine, safety Geno Stone and cornerback Michael Ojemudia talked about how their training under defensive backs coach/defensive coordinator Phil Parker is working for them in their quest for a spot in the league.

Unlike Wirfs, neither has had a formal interview, so nothing is assured, but the fact they’re at the combine means they did enough at Iowa and the NFL wants to see more.

Pressure is one thing Iowa defensive backs have to learn to digest. Yes, if they get beat, it’s a touchdown. It’s also probably a long, uncomfortable conversation with Parker and one of their teammates going into the game to replace them.

“Just when you’re out there,” Ojemudia said. “You don’t want to F up because you can just feel him, you can feel him staring you down. There’s that sense of urgency, you’ve got to get it done and you’ve got to get it done right or you’re going back to the sideline and you know what’s coming for you.”

That’s the coaching aspect. Parker obviously has a high bar for his defensive backs, something that he’s very upfront about in recruiting. Parker was the point person for Ojemudia’s recruitment.

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“When he first came to my school (in Farmington Hills, Mich.), I was like, 'who is this guy?'” Ojemudia said. “He said, ‘You’re not going to play right away.’ How are you going to pitch your school when you come to my school talking like that? If your head is on your shoulders, you realize they’re speaking up front and honest. I really respected that. He never swayed along the way. Whatever he said, he stayed to it every year.”

Stone, a second-team all-Big Ten pick last season, tracked how his relationship with Parker changed during his career. As a freshman, Stone was mostly quiet in the meeting room, trying to soak in everything. As a junior last season, Parker included Stone in on talks about scheme and personnel, as in, Stone said, “Who we should put in the game.”

“He trusted my word and, at the same time, I trusted everything he said,” Stone said.

Their last talk was, of course, Stone telling him he was leaving Iowa a year early and making the move to the NFL.

“He told me his opinion on things, but at the same time, he said, you’ve got to do what’s best for you and your family. I’m not going to steer you wrong, but I’m going to tell you my opinion,” Stone said. “I listened to his opinion, he listened to mine, too. We’re going to continue to have a great relationship.”

Playing defensive back at Iowa, your NFL tape will be light on man-to-man coverage, but you do have to download lots of zone coverages. Iowa favors a version of quarters coverage, but played cover 3, cover 1 and cover 8 last season.

Ojemudia played in the Senior Bowl, which was all man-to-man coached by the Detroit Lions staff.

“Playing man, that’s easy. You don’t have to think that much,” said Ojemudia, who’s been asked a ton about the mechanical engineering degree he’ll earn in May from the UI (he said Friday, that’s coming after football). “I think I can handle anything they throw at me because of what coach Parker taught us.”

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Of the three Hawkeyes who declared early for the draft after the Holiday Bowl — Wirfs, Stone and D-lineman A.J. Epenesa — Stone was considered the surprise. One fact that was kind of hanging back with him was his hometown New Castle, Pa. Stone grew up playing with and competing against former Ohio State defensive back and current Indianapolis Colt Malik Hooker, who’s also from New Castle.

Near the end, when Stone was trying to get to where he could see himself in the NFL, a long drive with Hooker, back home in New Castle, helped Stone get there. The next day he revealed his plans for the NFL.

“I’ve been close with Malik since seventh or eighth grade, so I really took his word. He never told me to go and never told me to stay,” Stone said. “He told me to follow my heart. He told me I can play in the league. He knows I’m a ballplayer. That’s how I feel, too. I feel like every time I step on the field, I’m a dog. That’s my mentality.”

Wirfs and Epenesa are projected to go in the first round in 10 out of 10 mock drafts. Just click one. Stone and Ojemudia don’t have that. They’re mostly projected in the mid-rounds, from fourth to the sixth. So, they were asked what else they can do.

Both played a ton of special teams at Iowa. Stone was involved in three phases last season. He’s probably fixed at safety, but with a strong 40-yard run here, Stone might be able to get a look at a slot corner spot, a la Desmond King. Ojemudia is at the combine as a corner, but at 6-1, he could have the size to get a look at safety, if it comes to that.

“A lot of teams have been testing my IQ to see if I could play anywhere else,” said Ojemudia, who played some safety in practice and did get a look at the cash position. “That’s easy for me. Anything they throw up on the board, that’s easy for me. I’m here as a corner, but being versatile gives me an edge over the other guys.”

One thing Ojemudia and Stone are sort of curious about is their 40 times. Iowa doesn’t test for that. Strength coach Chris Doyle is not a believer and sees it as a hamstring pulling possibility. These guys have trained and probably have a pretty good idea how the 40 might go for them.

Stone was up front with his goal.

“I’m trying to shoot for a 4.55,” Stone said.

Ojemudia?

“Just as an athlete, you want to know how you compare to other people,” said Ojemudia, who’s been training with a group in Florida to work on his speed.

Prediction?

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“I think I’m going to run fast,” he said. “I wouldn’t throw a number out there. We saw yesterday here that predictions can get you burned, so I don’t want to put any numbers out there, but I do think I’m going to run fast.”

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

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