No. 3 . . . Not long after the Hawkeyes' thud in the TaxSlayer Bowl last January, cornerback Desmond King jumped in a plane and flew to Houston, where he trained with NFL defensive backs. He worked technique and took a deep dive into the finer points of playing cornerback.
So far, so good. The three-year starter picked up where he left off last season in fall camp so far.
“It's his third year on campus,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He has more experience than most guys at that point. He got thrown in there and really did a great job. I'm not sure he was full-throttle last year and I don't mean that in a derogatory sense, but it's just a young player that thought he had it figured out a little bit too much and that happens.
“He's really been a different guy. He trained extremely hard this summer. He's playing in practice at a really high level right now. Again, if we're going to have a good football team, guys that have played have to play well for us and he's certainly doing his part and really setting some tempo in the back end for us.”
Pro move by King to train with NFLers in Houston. It also shows the commitment. Let's face it, King is a third-year starter. It's easy for him to walk out there and be “Desmond King, the Hawkeye.” It's a different thing for him to be Desmond King, the corner the NFL is interested in scouting.
Before the Ball State game last season, BSU coach Pete Lembo, who recruited King heavily out of Detroit, called him the perfect boundary corner, meaning King is a physical player. When a “made” starter takes the trouble to train in Houston during the off-season, maybe he sees a glitch that he wants to fix.
So far, so good there, too. During Iowa's open scrimmage on Aug. 15, he broke up two passes and showed recovery and recognition skills that promise a big junior season.
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Last season, King recorded 64 tackles and shared the team lead with three interceptions for 72 yards and one touchdown. He also had five pass breakups and two tackles for loss.
Speaking of the NFL . . . Did I ask King if he's considering leaving early? No. He will be a junior and a three-year starter, but it's a little too early in the year for that question. I don't have the heart to start asking now. Let's recheck this in December.
But speaking of the NFL, it probably wouldn't hurt King to show the league some return skills. This spring, he was the lead punt returner and is probably in the front of the line for that job. He's also said that he is a candidate for the kick return spot.
It's something he wants and has openly campaigned for with the coaching staff.
“I want to get out there and make plays,” King said. “I'd love for us to get points in the special teams. That's something we have to work on this year, getting our special teams back in the game. They have over the years, but this year, I believe we're going to do that.”
King called the look he's getting as a returner a “50-50” deal as far as whose idea it was. He went to the coaches and “gave them a little suggestion, and I guess they watched film on me from back in high school. I showed my athleticism out there on the field with the ball in my hands, so I kind of gave them a little look at what I can do,” King said.
On Iowa Live: Starters on Special Teams?
The last time Iowa had its top corner return punts was 2012, when cornerback Micah Hyde was a senior. Of course, you remember a whole lot of fair catches. Well, in two NFL seasons with the Green Bay Packers, Hyde has returned three punts for TDs, tying the team record for career punt returns (a list that includes Desmond Howard, BTW).
There probably isn't any cognitive dissonance for keeping the clamps on Hyde (you really can't coach with hindsight), but maybe that's the impetus for perhaps giving King a shot on returns.
Perhaps. We'll see if it actually happens.
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Outlook . . . Expect King to be one of the top performers on this defense. Maybe at some point he'll get a question about leaving early for the NFL draft. Pro Football Focus did have him rated as the nation's No. 8 defensive back this summer. (I put credence into that. PFF is a scouting and analytics powerhouse.)
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