April 8, 2009
- 2009 Spring Camp Central
- New and renewal season ticket customers: Purchase yours online!
- Outback Bowl Central
- Iowa and the Big Ten Network
- Iowa Football wallpaper
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The fact that University of Iowa junior Christian Ballard is starting at defensive end for a Kirk Ferentz-coached Hawkeye team bodes well for his football future. But for now, Ballard is using spring drills to work on technique as the team attempts to improve on last season’s 9-4 record.
“The energy is really high,” Ballard said. “The intensity is high, the tempo is high and everybody’s looking forward to next season. We let four games slip away from us last season. We’re getting our fundamentals and technique down so we can get to a higher bowl game than we did last year.”
The bowl experience was a positive one for Ballard and his teammates. Iowa forced five South Carolina turnovers and thoroughly handled the Gamecocks, 31-10, in the Outback Bowl.
Being a starting defensive end for the Hawkeyes carries a certain mystique. From 2005-07 the starters were Kenny Iwebema and Bryan Mattison. Other starting defensive ends at Iowa since 1999 include Anthony Herron, Scott Pospisil, Aaron Kampman, Jonathan Babineaux, Howard Hodges, Derreck Robinson and Matt Roth. Babineaux (Atlanta Falcons), Cole (Seattle Seahawks), Iwebema (Arizona Cardinals), Kampman (Green Bay Packers), Mattison (Baltimore Ravens) and Roth (Miami Dolphins) are all currently active in the NFL.
Since Ferentz has been head coach at Iowa, all 10 starting defensive ends have played in the NFL.
Defense in general has been particularly salty for the Hawkeyes in defensive coordinator Norm Parker’s decade in Iowa City. Last season Iowa was fifth in the nation in scoring defense (13.0 points per game), ninth in rushing defense (94.0 yards per game) and 12th in total defense (291.31 yards per game).
“That’s our MO, our defense is always going to be good,” Ballard said. “We’re going to do what we’re coached to do. We have a lot of players back and we’re looking to push forward, we’re not looking to take a step backwards. We’re still looking to be one of the best defenses in the country.”
“That’s our MO, our defense is always going to be good. We’re going to do what we’re coached to do. We have a lot of players back and we’re looking to push forward, we’re not looking to take a step backwards. We’re still looking to be one of the best defenses in the country.”
UI defensive end
Eight defensive starters return for the Hawkeyes and that experience should make the transition a little easier without tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul and cornerback Bradley Fletcher. Ballard already senses the void left by King and Kroul, both four-year starters.
“King and Kroul were the leaders of the team and the heart and soul of the defense,” Ballard said. “Replacing them is going to be hard. I think we’re up to the challenge — we’re definitely excited to see what we can do. We’re looking to be better than we were last year and we have some young guys who are competing hard for spots.”
One person that will not be a rookie on the starting front is junior defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Together with Ballard, they form a formidable and ferocious pair. The duo averages 6-foot-4, 284 pounds.
“We’ve been playing together for a long time,” Ballard said. “We came in at the same time and we have some chemistry going. We can talk to each other on the field, we can work things out if something’s not going right. It’s good to be able to ask somebody on the other side who knows what he’s doing.”
In his first season as a starter, Ballard compiled 40 tackles (14 solo, 26 assists) with 3 ½ tackles for loss, 1 ½ quarterback sacks, a forced fumble and five quarterback hurries. He was one of 11 true freshmen to see action in 2007, recording 15 tackles and 2 ½ sacks.
“Now I have a lot more confidence,” Ballard said. “I know the defense really well and I know what to do and when to do it. It comes like second nature to me now. I want to be a leader on this team and show people that I can do this. I want to take the role of King and Kroul.”
The Hawkeyes will participate in the ninth of 15 practices Wednesday afternoon. The final day of spring drills is Saturday, April 18, and Iowa’s season-opener will be Saturday, Sept. 5, against Northern Iowa.