Camp Central: Plenty of skill, speed in the secondary

Aug. 8, 2008

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Practice photos from Friday, Aug. 8 | Exclusive video of Coach Parker

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Two of the six defensive starters lost from the 2007 University of Iowa football team resided in the secondary in the form of cornerbacks Charles Godfrey and Adam Shada. But UI defensive backs coach Phil Parker is blessed with depth and said he is excited and looking forward to the season.

“When you lose two guys with that much game experience, it’s hard,” said Parker in an exclusive interview with following Iowa’s practice Friday morning. “But Bradley Fletcher (left cornerback) has played and started for five or six games and he did a really good job toward the end of the year. You look at the younger guys — Jordan Bernstine (left cornerback) has played a little bit and got his feet wet, so he has an understanding of what’s going on. Amari Spievey coming back gives us a little bit more experience as a guy who has played football. The other guys are young and we feel excited about them.”

Although it has been stressed and repeated several times during preseason camp, nearly every Hawkeye starting position is up for grabs. With that understood, the depth chart released by the UI on media day has Fletcher, a senior three-year letterwinner, as the starter at left corner, senior Harold Dalton or sophomore Lance Tillison at strong safety, sophomore Brett Greenwood at free safety and senior two-year letterwinner Drew Gardner at right corner.

Fletcher led all Hawkeye returnees in the secondary with 53 tackles last season. He also added three pass break-ups and two interceptions. Greenwood compiled 45 tackles and two interceptions, including one at the goal line with 1:12 remaining to preserve a 10-6 victory against Illinois. Bernstine played all 12 games and had nine stops.

Parker said the most recent Hawkeye recruiting class provides depth to the secondary and he said the group as a whole has “great skill and great speed.”

Shaun Prater has great skill, good speed and good cover skills,” Parker said. “Willie Lowe has a lot of ability and good quickness and he understands the game. Greg Castillo has also done a good job. David Cato is a strong safety and he’s kind of learning. He reminds me a little bit of Bob (Sanders) — he’s very strong and very powerful. Jack Swanson is learning his footwork and he’s done a good job there.”

Parker added that it is “too early to tell” for sure what newcomers will see the field this season, but for the true freshmen, he said Prater might have a chance.

“Then we have Amari Spievey coming back from junior college who will definitely contribute as a new guy coming in,” Parker said.

Last season the Hawkeyes doubled their opponents in the interception category, 14 to 7. Godfrey corralled five of those interceptions and the linebackers combined for five more.

“We want turnovers and we work on it,” Parker said. “Any time you get the ball back to the offense is a positive. You always want to win the turnover margin. A lot of our interceptions (last season) came in the red zone. We did pretty well last year in the Big Ten statistically and most of those came toward the end zone.”

Iowa finished its fifth day of practice Friday at the Kenyon Football Practice Facility. Parker said an individual highlight so far in camp has come from Tillison, who has made several “diving, laid-out interceptions.” According to their position coach, the entire group has been encouraging.

“These guys are really focused on what we’re trying to get done,” Parker said. “We have a long way to go. There is no hitting yet and we haven’t had a scrimmage yet, so it’s hard to tell. I’m excited about it and I’m looking forward to it.”

Iowa opens the season Saturday, Aug. 30, against Maine with an 11:05 a.m. kickoff from Kinnick Stadium. Tickets still remain for UI home games against Maine, Florida International, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

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