March 30, 2016
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By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — There is a mix of experience, semi-experience, and youth on the University of Iowa football team’s defensive line during 2016 spring practice.
The experience comes from three returning starters: senior Jaleel Johnson, junior Nathan Bazata, and redshirt sophomore Parker Hesse. Johnson (45 tackles) and Bazata (42 tackles) combined for 87 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss out of the defensive tackle positions; Hesse had 44 tackles and two sacks after taking over for an injured Drew Ott at defensive end.
The semi-experience comes from Faith Ekakitie and Matt Nelson and the youth revolves around three new faces on the spring two-deep in redshirt freshman Anthony Nelson, sophomore Sam Brincks, and junior defensive tackle Jake Hulett. Iowa has eight first or second-year players on the defensive line.
“We have a good nucleus of guys that are doing well. The good thing you feel about it is you see guys helping each other in the room and trying to do things the way they’re supposed to be doing them.”
UI defensive line coach Reese Morgan
“We have a good nucleus of guys that are doing well,” UI defensive line coach Reese Morgan said during a Wednesday news conference in the All-America Room inside the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center.
“The good thing you feel about it is you see guys helping each other in the room and trying to do things the way they’re supposed to be doing them.”
Johnson is the senior leader of the defensive line, but Morgan is hesitant to call Johnson the defensive line’s “anchor.” It’s not for the lack of ability; it’s because Morgan still sees so much potential for Johnson to improve.
“Jaleel is an excellent player and he has a great ability,” said Morgan, “But if he was up here right now, he would say I have a lot of work to do to get better. The good thing about it is he’s playing with a lot of energy, playing hard, and he’s our most experienced defensive lineman and has a chance to be good.”
Morgan has challenged the defensive lineman to raise the bar in 2016 by focusing on both the good and the bad from last year’s Rose Bowl season. He made a video cut-up of every run play from the season for the unit to study and dissect.
“Their goal in the offseason was to study the film and come into spring ball with goals: What do you have to get better at? What are your objectives?
“We talk about that every day and that has been helpful. They understand they have work to do, so we’re trying to build on that. It has been something that has been motivating for our entire football team.”
Morgan says first-year defensive assistant and recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell has been a welcomed addition to the defensive line coaching staff. Bell was promoted to a defensive assistant and recruiting coordinator in February.
“We are fortunate to have Kelvin working with us,” said Morgan. “He played here as a defensive lineman under a great defensive line coach, Ron Aiken, and he had an opportunity to go out and work at other programs as a line coach. He has been a huge asset.”