Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Play more aggressively. Play faster. Play with better technique.
Matt Nelson has heard that advice from University of Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan over and over since the end of last season.
“He always says, ‘Get a little Nate Meier in you,'” Nelson said.
That’s a good place to start. Meier was a starting defensive end for the Hawkeyes the past two seasons, playing with a motor that never stopped. Now Nelson is in line to replace Meier at left end.
Defensive end is a position that is stocked with young talent but is thin on Big Ten experience. Parker Hesse, who started eight games last season in place of the injured Drew Ott, is the Hawkeyes’ most experienced defensive end. Nelson also got quality snaps as Meier’s backup last season.
There are 10 defensive ends on the roster. All 10 are freshmen or sophomores. Is that a blessing or a curse?
“It’s both,” Morgan said. “It really is. Matt has played a little bit, so he has some experience. Parker has played a little more. If you look back three years ago, Drew Ott was really a first-year player. He played 50-some snaps as a true freshman. He built and improved during the course of his two years. Nate Meier, three years ago, was a part-time starter. So there’s a transition to go there. But we have four kids doing some good things.”
Anthony Nelson, a redshirt freshman, and Sam Brincks, a redshirt sophomore, round out Iowa’s four leading candidates at the position.
“These guys have great pride, and they’re the last ones to leave the field,” Morgan said. “They’re always trying to work and improve.”
Michael Slater, a redshirt freshman defensive end, has not made it to the field because of postseason surgery. There also five true freshmen in Chauncey Golston, Cedrick Lattimore, Romeo McKnight, Austin Schulte, and Brandon Simon. Lattimore moved inside to defensive tackle during fall camp.
“They look good and they’re great kids, great young men,” Morgan said. “We like this freshman class; they are talented. They need some time, but I still think it’s easier at a skill position to come in and be a contributor than it is to come in as a lineman because it is such a physical thing to do.
“They all have great attitudes and we have a lot of time to evaluate. It’s too early to make decisions on that.”
“There’s no point where you think, “OK, now I have this. I have a long way to go, and I’m looking forward to improving this year. The best way to learn is by doing something, and having that experience is invaluable. It’s something I can fall back on as a vote of confidence for myself, that I’ve been there and done it before.” — redshirt sophomore Parker Hesse
So the present and future are bright at the position. But look for Hesse and Matt Nelson, and backups Anthony Nelson and Brincks, to get a majority of the snaps this season.
“Between Matt, Parker, Anthony, and Sam, they’ve done a good job at the ends over there,” UI defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. “And inside guys like Jaleel Johnson and Nathan Bazata are going to help them out. I’m excited to see where we’re at. But we’re going to have to see some guys step up and help us out.”
Hesse knows the experience he gained last season will be valuable, but he realizes he has hardly arrived as a Big Ten football player.
“There’s no point where you think, “OK, now I have this,'” Hesse said. “I have a long way to go, and I’m looking forward to improving this year. The best way to learn is by doing something, and having that experience is invaluable. It’s something I can fall back on as a vote of confidence for myself, that I’ve been there and done it before.”
Hesse had 44 tackles last season, two of them sacks. He also had an interception and touchdown in the regular-season finale, a 28-20 victory at Nebraska. He has spent the offseason under the wing of strength coach Chris Doyle, who continues to turn the former high school quarterback and college linebacker into a rock-solid defensive end.
Hesse has also spent time with the defensive coaches, learning nuances of the position.
“When we came back in January, it was full speed ahead,” Hesse said.
Brincks said the competition at the position is healthy. He wants to take advantage of the opportunity to get on the field.
“We learned from a lot of good players like Drew and Nate last year, and they showed us the way,” Brincks said. “Now we have to listen to what the coaches tell us and execute. Every day, we’re trying to get better.”
The Hawkeyes open the 2016 season Sept. 3, hosting Miami (Ohio) at 2:30 p.m. (CT) inside Kinnick Stadium. Tickets are available at hawkeyesports.com.
About the Author
Rick Brown is a native of Fort Dodge, Iowa, and a University of Iowa graduate. He covered Iowa athletics for the past four decades for the Des Moines Register prior to his retirement in December.