IOWA CITY, Iowa — As the final stretch before the season begins for the University of Iowa football team, it has become more obvious that the defensive line will remain a strength for the Hawkeyes in 2017.
The group of Matt Nelson, Anthony Nelson, Parker Hesse, and Nathan Bazata return in 2017 after accumulating 17 sacks and 152 tackles last season.
“This is the best we’ve been up front as a whole since I have been the coordinator here,” defensive coordinator Phil Parker said.
But Parker doesn’t expect to give the same looks as last year. He wants to use his players’ experience to his advantage and allow them to play multiple positions.
“We let (Matt Nelson) inside a little bit,” Parker said. “He already knows outside and he has played outside for so long and he has been a great teammate. It’s a little bit harder to take a young guy and have him play two positions. Matt can play two positions because he already knows one of them.”
Along with Nelson, Hesse will see more play time inside on sub packages, but the biggest question marks remain with the underclassmen.
Freshman A.J. Epenesa and may see significant playing time in sub packages or situations when extra rushers are needed.
“I thought A.J. was really good in high school,” Parker said. “He has potential and we are looking forward to him reaching his full potential. Whether he knows what he’s doing or not, he can run to the ball well.”
But preparing Epenesa and the other freshmen for situations under the lights may have been one of the tougher tasks to accomplish during the summer.
“We don’t know exactly how things will go when the game starts and there are 70,000 people in the stadium, but we try and put him in pressure situations during scrimmages, competitions, and drills and he has done well,” said Parker.
As for getting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, it all has to do with playing fundamental football.
“When you play good, sound football then you don’t need to pressure,” Parker said. “I want to make sure we play good, fundamental defense in whatever we do.”
But when they need pressure, Parker’s defense has the experience and intelligence to do it right.
“There are times when you need pressure so you need to pick and choose when you go and our guys understand their blitzes,” Parker said. “It will be very easy to run blitzes without mental errors.”
The Hawkeyes swarm into Kinnick Stadium for their home opener Sept. 2, against Wyoming at 11 a.m. (CT). Tickets are available over the phone at 1-800-IA-HAWKS or online at hawkeyesports.com.