April 20, 2016
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By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Spring football is about building a culture within the University of Iowa football team.
Through 13 practices, the Hawkeyes have made progress, but it’s a process that doesn’t end for UI defensive coordinator Phil Parker. The culture-building is about doing little things to come together and then doing them with the right attitude.
“There’s a demeanor, tempo, and attitude (that we’re stressing),” Parker said Wednesday during a news conference in the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center. “It is how do you carry yourself and what does football mean to you?
“Some guys play the game to just be on the team, and some guys go out there and play because they love the game, have a passion for it, and want to excel.”
“It doesn’t matter where they are right now (on the depth chart). It’s where they are the first game, second game, and last game… that’s where it matters. We’re not playing a game, so it’s about getting better and improving.”
UI defensive coordinator Phil Parker
Junior linebacker Josey Jewell is a poster child for embracing the Iowa football culture. Parker says he brings leadership, intangibles, and work ethic to the field every day. Jewell led Iowa with 126 tackles, including 7.5 for loss last season. He had four interceptions and three sacks in his first season as a full-time starter.
“Josey isn’t perfect on every play, but we’re excited about the leadership and toughness he brings and what he demands from everybody else,” said Parker. “(He leads) by example and hustles every play. He’s going to be aggressive and I know the guys see that.
“That’s all you’ve got to do is follow Josey and he’ll take you where you need to go.”
After losing starting defensive ends Nate Meier and Drew Ott to graduation, Parker likes the growth of redshirt sophomores Matt Nelson and Parker Hesse. Parker says redshirt freshman Anthony Nelson is turning heads.
“Matt has made a big jump of being more aggressive in his pass rush,” said Parker. “I think he understands the quickness and going out there and doing it every day, and getting his technique down. He has excelled and became a better player during the first 13 days.”
Parker says at least two freshmen defensive backs will be candidates to see the field in 2016, but he did not name names. Seniors Desmond King and Greg Mabin return as starters at defensive back, while sophomore Josh Jackson and Michael Ojemudia are next in line.
“They have done a good job,” said Parker. “Josh played a little bit, and even though he had surgery in January, he has been out there. We’re excited about where he can go.
“OJ (Ojemudia) has done a great job where he is at, but still has some growing pains to go through, too. He’s growing up and is getting better.”
“I’m excited to see how far Brandon can go,” said Parker. “It’s a little like Jordan. He’s a tough kid, is aggressive, and is going to put the time in. He has a long way to go but I think there’s good competition.”
Parker likes the competition and versatility he has seen from the linebackers. Jewell has a stranglehold on the starting middle linebacker position, but the other two spots are up for grabs.
“There are a lot of jobs open,” said Parker. “We’ve moved a bunch of guys around to play inside and outside. Jack Hockaday has been outside, and we moved Aaron Mends to the Mike (middle) backer, so they have played multiple positions already.
“We’re excited about where they’re going, and the kids are learning more than one spot.”
The depth chart has Bo Bower, Jewell, and Mends as first-teamers, and redshirt freshmen Nick Wilson, Angelo Garbutt, and Hockaday on the second unit. Ben Niemann, a starter in 2015, isn’t practicing this spring because of injury.
“It doesn’t matter where they are right now (on the depth chart),” said Parker. “It’s where they are the first game, second game, and last game… that’s where it matters. We’re not playing a game, so it’s about getting better and improving.”
It’s also about continuing to build the team’s culture.
The Hawkeyes close the spring with an open practice Saturday at 1 p.m. (CT) at Kinnick Stadium.