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 JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Boston College is next for the University of Iowa football team in the 2017 New Era Pinstripe Bowl, but much of Monday’s news conference with defensive coordinator Phil Parker focused on what’s next for the Hawkeyes’ 2018 defense.
In nine days, Iowa could be moving forward without two consensus All-Americans. Senior linebacker Josey Jewell’s eligibility expires because of graduation, while junior cornerback Josh Jackson will have a decision to make regarding the NFL Draft.
Jewell is one of three departures among Iowa’s linebacking corps, along with weak-side linebacker Bo Bower and outside linebacker Ben Niemann. The trio are Iowa’s top three tacklers in 2017, accumulating 284 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, and 6 ½ sacks.
It will be a race against time to identify the next in line; Parker says the sooner the better.
“You have to get (the replacements) in there and start making decisions,” said Parker. “(These guys) have to make calls up front to the defensive line and communicate with the secondary. You need to make sure they can make those decisions.”
Junior Aaron Mends and sophomore Kristian Welch are frontrunners, while sophomore Amani Jones has made a late push during bowl preparation.
“Amani has done a good job the last couple of practices,” said Parker. “He has a lot of strength and power; it’s whether he is going to be a middle or weak side linebacker. That’s going to be an interesting battle.”
Redshirt freshmen Nick Niemann and Barrington Wade are two underclassmen who have made headway to replace Niemann, but Parker says the coaching staff is also tossing around the idea of adjusting personnel to counter opposing offenses.
“We have been looking at different aspects of putting a defensive back in that (outside linebacker) position,” said Parker. “If we have to move Nick or Barrington and play with two inside linebackers, and then play with a skill guy based on personnel we’re seeing with all these offensive teams.”
Parker mentioned sophomore Amani Hooker as a possible candidate. The Minneapolis native had 44 tackles and two interceptions in nine games, including five starts, before missing the final three games of the regular season because of injury.
“Amani could be a down safety that’s playing man-to-man and running to the flat,” said Parker. “It’s not a hard position; you just have to have the reps to do it.”
Parker says he has had conversations with Jackson about his football future.
“We joke about it,” said Parker. “It’s a decision he is going to have to make with his family and what’s best for him. The best thing is, he will graduate in May. If he chooses to go, I am happy for him and wish him the best of luck. If he stays, he’ll be our best recruit in the (secondary).”
As for the game, Parker has seen an Iowa team that is motivated to halt its bowl losing streak at five games. He says the game will be a matchup of like-minded teams.
“We have the same philosophy of wanting to run the ball and stopping the run,” said Parker. “We’re built about being physical. Football is a violent game and (Boston College) plays with a lot of violence.”
Tickets are available to the 2017 New Era Pinstripe Bowl by visiting Iowa’s Athletic Ticket Office at www.hawkeyesports.com/tickets. The game will be televised on ESPN at 4:15 p.m. (CT) on Dec. 27 with Kevin Negandhi, Mack Brown, Booker McFarland, and Jen Lada on the call.