April 14, 2009
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — When University of Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker began addressing the media Tuesday in the player’s auditorium of the Hayden Fry Football Complex, he had this to say about his defense: `I don’t think we’re any good right now.’
That might be the case after 12 spring practices, but 25 minutes later, Parker offered a different, more positive, prediction:
“I’ll admit that I’m partial. I think my daughter’s prettier than that other guy’s daughter,” Parker said. “We can be as good as last year — might be better.”
Those are colossal words coming from the mastermind of the 2008 Hawkeye defense that finished 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). Only the University of Southern California allowed fewer touchdowns a year ago than Iowa (14 to 17).
There is a catch, although not a secret, to building one of the stingiest defenses in the country.
“You win games now and in the summer,” Parker said. “When the season comes, either you’re ready to go or you’re not ready to go.”
In the last decade, the Hawkeyes have taken pride in being a physically-tough defensive team. Parker said that will have to be the case next season, and the work of strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle and his staff is a key in that process.
“Our guys walk onto the field thinking they’re stronger than the opponent,” Parker said. “I don’t think there’s a strength coach in the country who can take a player from A to B like Chris Doyle does.”
Parker said competition has been strong at nearly every position, thanks to improved depth. Still, the winning philosophy remains the same.
“If we’re going to be any good as a defense, we have to be smart, we have to keep the ball inside us and in front of us and then get off blocks and make tackles. We’re not a run-up-the field, bing, bang, boom group of guys. We never have been and probably never will be. We have to be a physically-tough team — that’s how we survive at Iowa on defense. You can’t win with rock heads, I know that.”
UI defensive coordinator
“If we’re going to be any good as a defense, we have to be smart, we have to keep the ball inside us and in front of us and then get off blocks and make tackles,” Parker said. “We’re not a run-up-the field, bing, bang, boom group of guys. We never have been and probably never will be. We have to be a physically-tough team — that’s how we survive at Iowa on defense. You can’t win with rock heads, I know that.”
With the departures of defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul and cornerback Bradley Fletcher, Parker said the trick now is to find where the leadership will come. He compared the search for a different defensive identity to teaching a class full of kindergarten students.
“When you’re a football coach, you’re like a kindergarten teacher,” Parker said. “Every year there’s a new class that comes in and every year that class has a new personality and a new chemistry. It’s the same way with a football team. Every year it’s a new chemistry and it’s new leaders and somebody has to take over.”
“They have definitely tried to become King and Kroul,” Parker said. “They have stepped up their game and stepped up their leadership. It’s hard to do because they’re trying to do as juniors what King and Kroul did as seniors.”
Although he didn’t want to detract for the defense as a whole, Parker emphasized two players that Iowa fans should keep an eye on next fall. The first is offensive convert Travis Meade from Iowa City West. Meade has played offensive center and guard during his career, but is listed as second-team left defensive tackle this spring behind Mike Daniels.
“He’s looked decent in there,” Parker said. “He used to be a defensive player a long time ago and now he’s back inside and he looks pretty good. Meade got in there and started doing some pretty good things. I can see him playing some next year. I think it was a good move for Meade and a good move for us. He’s done some good things in there.”
According to Parker, the defensive surprise of the spring is redshirt sophomore Lebron Daniel, who is backing Clayborn at right end.
“This guy is going to play some,” Parker said. “This guy is doing some good things. I think he’s going to be a good player. He’s working his tail off, he’s got a motor, he comes hard and he has a little bit of quickness. I think he’s going to help out.”
Iowa opens the season Saturday, Sept. 5, against Northern Iowa inside Kinnick Stadium.
Return to hawkeyesports.com tomorrow (Wednesday) to read what UI offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe has to say about life on his side of the football.