Aug. 20, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — It’s little wonder that optimism abounds among the University of Iowa football program, especially if the ancient coaching axiom `defense wins championships’ holds any accuracy.
Taking that mindset one step further — and leading to added high hopes with the Hawkeyes — is the fact that the cornerstone of a stingy defense is a solid front four. UI defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski spent a few moments with hawkeyesports.com following the first of two practices Wednesday. It was practice No. 20 for Iowa during fall camp, leaving just 10 days and nine practices before the season-opener Saturday, Aug. 30, against Maine inside Kinnick Stadium.
“We just finished our 20th workout and all we’re trying to do is improve each day,” Kaczenski said. “These guys know what their weaknesses are and they come out here and try to attack those weaknesses. We look at a lot of tape to see how we can improve. Overall, I’m pretty happy with their approach and the demeanor they’ve had through 20 workouts. We still have a long way to go. Fortunately we have a few days left to get better and work before Maine comes to Kinnick Stadium.”
The strength of the Hawkeye defense, and perhaps the entire Iowa team, rests squarely on the solid shoulders of a pair of senior four-year starters at tackle — Mitch King and Matt Kroul. Last season Kroul was fourth on the squad with 74 tackles (23 solo, 51 assists) and King was seventh with 58 (25 solo, 33 assists). King topped the Hawkeye chart with 14 ½ tackles for loss, which included 4 ½ quarterback sacks.
“Those guys are students of the game,” Kaczenski said. “They love football and they’re great football players. The great ones don’t need any motivation. They come out here with a purpose each and every day and the younger, inexperienced guys feed off that. Those two guys set the tempo and they’ve raised the bar here and they’re not going to lower the bar. They make my job real easy.”
Iowa’s defensive front four — or front eight if you include the entire two-deep — is a much greater than the decorated starting defensive tackles. Kaczenski said the remainder of starting and reserve positions have not been penciled in and there is plenty of competition among a position group that oozes with potential.
“(Sophomore) Karl Klug is a guy who keeps showing up on the radar, that’s for sure,” Kaczenski said. “(senior) Anton Narinskiy is a plugger in there…(freshman) Mike Daniels is a real explosive guy…you’ve got (junior) Chad Geary on the edge and (freshman) Broderick Binns is having a heck of a camp, especially with (sophomore) Christian (Ballard) getting hurt early on. Broderick stepped in there and we didn’t miss a beat. He’s gotten a lot of work and that’s what he needs. He’s a young guy and he’s been getting a ton of reps which is great for him and great for the defense.”
Last season the Hawkeyes ranked 12th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 18.8 points per game. Iowa ranked 24th in rushing defense (122.0 yards per game) and 36th in total defense (351.17 yards per game).
“We’re still a long ways away,” Kaczenski said. “We’re on a day-to-day basis and we still have too much work to do. All we have to do right now is worry about Iowa and the things we need to improve on. After this weekend and next week we start getting into a game-week program and school starts and all those types of things. Then we’ll start thinking about opponents, but right now we have to worry about Iowa and coming to work every day.”
The preseason depth chart lists Ballard and fellow sophomore Adrian Clayborn as the starters at defensive end. Last season Clayborn compiled 20 tackles, including 15 during the final four games. Of Ballard’s 15 total stops, five each came during victories against Syracuse and Northwestern.
To view 19 photos from Wednesday’s morning practice, available exclusively on hawkeyesports.com, click HERE .