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By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — When Brandon Snyder went down with an ACL injury April 6, the University of Iowa football team lost more than its starting safety, it lost its defensive quarterback.
With two practices remaining in spring ball and Friday night’s Spring Game on tap for 7:06 p.m. (CT) at Kinnick Stadium, defensive coordinator Phil Parker likes the progress sophomores Jake Gervase and Amani Hooker have made in Snyder’s absence.
“Jake has done a good job at free safety,” said Parker at a Wednesday news conference in the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center. “Amani is young and learning in the process and Jake has a couple of years of experience on him.
“Amani is an athletic guy and has the ability to go out and make plays. You have to mentally get him focused because he’s the commander, director, and has control of everything.”
Reading between the lines, Snyder’s loss was more than his 85 tackles, three forced fumbles, three interceptions, or two fumble recoveries he had in 2016. He was the commander and chief of the Hawkeye secondary.
“It’s a very hard position,” said Parker. “He has to understand the game, make split-second decisions, and make sure everybody is in the right defense, coverage and support so the communication goes well.
“Brandon, as you saw him grow last year, made great jumps. I expect him to be back and help us on the field as a coach. He can give insight as a player where he was. He can help out Jake and Hooker to give them different looks and understand the way he looked at it.”
Overall, Parker says the spring has been about opportunity for the defense. With the senior linebacker trio of Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann, and Bo Bower returning, reps have been distributed to the young linebackers to try to sort out the depth chart.
“This spring we have done a good job of cutting Josey’s reps,” said Parker. “We have to figure out who is going to be the backup middle linebacker and who is going to be third team. There are guys with good athletic ability that can move, are tough, and smart.
“But to understand the system and try to play like those guys, they need more reps.”
Parker likes the depth the Hawkeyes are accumulating on the defensive front. Sophomore Cedrick Lattimore has added weight to take on a bigger role, redshirt freshman Brandon Simon has stood out on the edge this spring, and Brady Reiff has been a standout on the inside.
“Brandon has done a good job,” said Parker. “He’s a guy that is getting better and has great quickness. He a very effective pass rusher. Brady has been a standout when he has been in there; he has a future to help us out and take a lot of reps this year.”
Parker tempered expectations for incoming freshman defensive lineman A.J. Epenesa.
“He’s one of the top defensive ends in the country, but when you look at him, he has to come in and understand what we call formations, personnel groupings, what defense we’re running, and what techniques we’re using,” said Parker. “He has a lot of things to learn and to ask a true freshman as a defensive lineman to come and be our starting defensive end or move him inside and play three technique or one technique… that’s a little too much right now.
“If we get him in here in the summer, get him in the weight room with coach (Chris) Doyle, see how he progresses, and see if we can get him up to speed. It would be good if we can get 15, 20 plays out of him a game.”