Eye on the Underclassmen: The Defense

This item was written by HawkeyeGameFilm. To read his thoughts on the offensive youngster, click here.

Defensive Players

Defensive Line

With all of the concerns about the defensive line going into this year, many people have looked at incoming freshmen Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekaktie as possible solutions. Generally speaking defensive line is one of the toughest spots to contribute at as a true freshman and it doesn’t look like this year will be any exception.

Both players have excellent combinations of athleticism and size and should be able to grow into starter caliber players. How fast that happens is up for grabs. Both guys struggled with technique and hand usage against the 3rd team OL. Both had some flashes and made plays with their raw ability but will need refinement to be consistent enough to see the field this year. Keep in mind these guys have only been around for a dozen or so practices at this point, but early indicators make me think they have a ways to go before seeing the field.

Melvin Spears and Darian Cooper were both running with the 2s defense on Saturday and both have a chance to earn reps. Cooper flashed some explosiveness and violent hands, beating blockers in the run game on a couple of occasions. He also displayed a high motor, a little reminiscent of Mike Daniels at times. He should push for time early in the season. Spears is still undersized for a D1 DE at this point and really struggled when he got tied up with bigger OTs in the run game. He tended to get engulfed and will need to do a better job using his hands to maintain position. He has the raw speed and quickness to turn the corner as a pass rusher, and did so several times out there Saturday. He may be able to get himself on the field if he raises his level of play against the run because Iowa is definitely looking for guys who can get to the QB from the edge.


Marcus Collins and LaRon Taylor are the guys I spent the most time watching here. Marcus Collins was all over the place throughout the day and made some great reads. He beat blockers to the point of attack and slashed into the backfield and took down backs for loss several times. He also had a goal-line collision with FB Mark Weisman that was one of the biggest hits of the day and he kept him out of the end-zone on the play. Another guy I had my eyes on was LaRon Taylor, who looked undersized but was very rangy. Depending on how the injury situation with Quinton Alston plays out, Taylor may have an opportunity to contribute on special teams this year. Collins looks to be a guy who will see time on multiple special teams units this year.

Travis Perry was out there with the 2s and was noticeably heavier than when I saw him last Spring. He still was moving very well and doesn’t appear to have lost any speed or quickness while adding more size. He did struggle wading through traffic to find ball carriers. The physical tools are all there and he should only improve his reading ability at OLB.

Defensive Back

Iowa has a couple of very solid looking young CBs in Kevin Buford and Sean Draper. Both Draper and Buford are longer and leaner DBs with natural COD skills (change of direction). Both fit in with the shift toward more aggressive man coverage based schemes. Both guys gave up completions at times but most of the time they fit right in with the upperclassmen. With the season ending injury to Jordan Lomax and BJ Lowery out with a sprain, the development of the young CBs could be very important. Draper and Buford are possibilities as nickel and dime subpackage defenders and both worked there quite a bit Saturday. Draper saw the most work in the nickel of the two.

John Lowdermilk has claimed the backup FS spot on the depth chart and appears to have a solid grip on it. He ran with the 2s Saturday and looked sound in his drops and wasn’t out of position when I had my eyes on him. In the spring depth behind starter Tanner Miller was a question mark and appears Lowdermilk is the answer.

  • cbancroft83

    How fast these young defensive players turn into solid Big Ten players will go a long way toward determining how well the Hawks play this year. Let’s go Hawks!

  • Larry Flint

    I’m becoming increasingly curious about how the secondary will fare in light of all the injuries among both experienced AND promising players.
    Lomax and Lile are out … and both are extremely young and promising.
    Lowery is both extremely promising AND he’s pretty proven … and he reportedly has a pretty bad sprain. That’s very BAD news!
    Castillo is a veteran player who has continued to incrementally improve and develop … and who has been suffering from hamstring issues. Certainly not good news.
    The immediate implications of the above are the following:
    – Draper AND Buford will presumably get pushed into action early
    – Lowdermilk is probably going to be able to lock down the back-up FS spot with little competition (Lile likely would have more than pushed him for it).
    – It’s going to be a little harder to effectively jam at the LOS if we’re stuck featuring youth … and that will place more pressure on the DL.
    Potential good news is that we have a really nice mix of talent and experience at safety. Miller, Donatell, and Sleeper all bring a lot of experience to the table … and Miller and Law both bring plenty of talent. I’ve heard pretty nice things about Lowdermilk’s athleticisms too.
    I just home that hawkeyegamefilm is “on” when it comes to the evals of Draper and Buford … because those guys are probably going to have to play quite a bit! Of course, our current situation reminds me a lot of the ’08 secondary when we had Fletcher as the veteran … and Spievey was pretty much an unknown quantity who just “emerged” for us.

    • Hawkeye Gamefilm

      Hah, I should clarify when talking about success of young players it’s a relative thing. Both guys are capable but as with all Freshman would be more prone to the big mistakes. It will be interesting to see how Iowa chooses to use the young guys & if they adjust the scheme to shield them a little. One area I didn’t get to see either guy work in was run support. Due to having so few live snaps there was very little to judge their ability to bring down ball carriers in space. I’ll hopefully get a better look this coming Saturday.

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