Depth, experience are key to an improved defense

April 17, 2008

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Here’s the bad news: the University of Iowa football team graduated six starters from the 2007 defense that finished 12th in the nation by allowing just 18.8 points per game.

The good news? Thanks to improved depth and an experienced nucleus, Hawkeye defensive coordinator Norm Parker said the 2008 defense could be better than the one that took the field last fall.

“I think as a total unit — if you count first and second teamers — we’re probably better than we were a year ago,” Parker said. “There’s more depth there now than there has been.”

Last season the Iowa defense was 24th in the nation in fewest rushing yards allowed (122.0 yards per game) and 36th in total defense (351.17). Returning starters include tackles Matt Kroul and Mitch King, linebacker A.J. Edds and defensive backs Harold Dalton, Brett Greenwood and part-time starter Bradley Fletcher.

“I think we’ve got a chance to be fairly decent,” Parker said. “We have a chance to be competitive. Our defensive line is doing all right. King and Kroul are playing very well inside. Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard have done real well, too. Then there are some young kids who have played well underneath.”

Other tackle candidates include Mike Daniels, Cody Hundertmark, Karl Klug and Anton Narinskiy.

Last season the Hawkeyes won four of their final five league games, including consecutive victories against Michigan State, Northwestern and Minnesota to become bowl eligible for the seventh season in a row. The Coca-Cola Iowa Football Spring Game is Saturday, April 19, beginning at 1 p.m. inside Kinnick Stadium.

Clayborn and Ballard are filling a void left at defensive end with the graduation on Kenny Iwebema and Bryan Mattison. Parker raves about the battles for playing time at end.

“Third down is the down we have to win. It all starts with getting off the field. We would also like to get more takeaways.”
UI defensive coordinator
Norm Parker

Chad Geary has a chance to get in there and push those guys,” he said. “Broderick Binns is doing a heck of a job, Lebron Daniel has some ability and Tyler Blum has done some good things. I feel good about those guys.”

The biggest hole appears to be at middle linebacker, where Mike Humpal and Mike Klinkenborg graduated. Those two combined for 202 tackles, 8 ½ sacks and four interceptions last season.

“Not only were they good athletes and good players, but they were experienced guys who were very smart,” Parker said. “That’s where we’re going to have to have guys step up and we have good competition going on at those positions.”

The two-deep roster for the spring scrimmage has Edds being backed up by Tyler Nielsen at outside linebacker.

“At middle linebacker we have a three-way battle between Pat Angerer, Jacody Coleman and Dezman Moses,” Parker said. “At the weak-side linebacker we have a three-way battle between Jeff Tarpinian, Jeremiha Hunter and Troy Johnson. You can’t say which one of them is going to be the guy. You would like to know that one guy’s clearly above everybody else, but that’s not the way it is. Eventually somebody is going to get more work than the other guys at those two positions.”

Parker said he thinks the Iowa secondary is strong. He called Greenwood one of the most improved players on the defense.

“You can make an argument that he is the most improved,” Parker said of the free safety.

The listed starters at cornerback for Saturday are Drew Gardner and Fletcher. Greenwood is listed at free safety and three players — Dalton, Lance Tillison and Tyler Sash — are competing at strong safety.

“Fletcher has played very well,” Parker said. “At the strong safety position, Lance Tillison is much better than he was a year ago. Sash and Dalton are also doing well in there.”

Last season the Hawkeyes were 22nd in the nation in turnover margin (plus-0.67 per game) and 68th in third-down efficiency defense (39.8 percent).

“Third down is the down we have to win,” Parker said. “It all starts with getting off the field. We would also like to get more takeaways.”

Iowa opens the season with three straight home games, beginning on Saturday, Aug. 30, against Maine. That will be followed by games against Florida International (Sept. 6) and Iowa State (Sept. 13).

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