March 27, 2012

Spring Outlook: DL

If you thought the group of defensive linemen last year was young and inexperienced, this year they are certainly young and inexperienced. The early spring depth chart is led by three redshirt freshmen in starting roles along with veteran Steve Bigach. Couple that with a new position coach and there's a lot going on up front for the Hawkeyes this spring.

Starters Lost: Broderick Binns, Mike Daniels, and Tom Nardo

Starters Returning: Dominic Alvis, Steve Bigach

Two Deeps:

DE: Dean Tsopanides (R-FR), Melvin Spears (R-FR)
DT: Steve Bigach (SR), Louis Trinca-Pasat (SO)
DT: Darian Cooper (R-FR), Joe Gaglione (SR)
DE: Riley McMinn (R-FR), Mike Hardy (SO)

The Numbers: Dominic Alvis: 30 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Steve Bigach: 24 tackles and one sack. Joe Gaglione: 7 tackles and .5 sacks. Carl Davis: 2 tackles. Louis Trinca-Pasat: 1 tackle.

Overview

Last year at this time the Hawkeye defensive line was adjusting to life without Adrian Clayborn, Karl Klug, and Christian Ballard and there were plenty of concerns. One thing different about last season was while the group up front was somewhat inexperienced, they could lean on veterans like Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns.

This year, as the two deeps illustrate is part attrition, part development issues, part injuries, and the result is a very young group up front for former offensive line coach Reese Morgan, who has switched to the defensive side of the ball. One positive that should alleviate the immediate concerns of seeing three redshirt freshmen at the top of the two deeps is that Dominic Alvis and Carl Davis, who will miss most of the spring while recovering from knee surgery, will be healthy and ready to do by the summer. You can probably pencil in Alvis at one of the defensive end positions in the fall and Davis would certainly be in the two deeps.

While those two will help, it's still a very young and inexperienced group up front that will have to grow up very quickly once the season starts. The good news is they have spring and fall camps to get ready before seeing game action.

Privately the Iowa coaches have been very high on Cooper and McMinn since they arrived on campus and both were very impressive on the scout team last fall. Cooper might have not had the chance to redshirt last year if not for a late arrival to fall camp and most observers thought McMinn might take a couple of years before he saw the field because he needed to add weigh.

Steve Bigach will add some much needed experience in the middle. Last year he moved into the rotation up front and did a nice job when called upon. Joe Gaglione has battled plenty of injuries in his career and he will look to impress with a health senior campaign. Louis Trinca-Pasat flashed in last year's fall open practice, but he has battled the injury bug as well.

Three other players to watch up front this spring are sophomore Mike Hardy and redshirt freshman Melvin Spears and Dean Tsopanides. Hardy popped up on the two deeps a few times last year. Spears spent fall camp last year working at middle linebacker before moving to the defensive line and Tsopanides was a late signee last spring for the Hawkeyes.

Biggest Question

Can this young group develop quickly enough and have an impact in 2012?

That seems to be the biggest question this spring because make no mistake, this is a young group. Kirk Ferentz has used the example of the 2005 defensive line, which replaced a very experienced group that left following the 2004 season. He's not that far off. That was the year when Mitch King moved from linebacker in the spring to defensive tackle and Matt Kroul joined up at the tackle positions. Both were redshirt freshmen at the time.

While it's unfair to tag any of these guys with the next King and Kroul, this group will probably take a few lumps at times this year. The hope is that as they gain experience, their play will improve because strong defensive line play has been critical for the success of Iowa's defense over the years. While it's unlikely that three redshirt freshmen will start this year, that group will be critical to the team's success in 2012.

The Future

Help, as they say, is on the way. The big question is will that help get a shot in their first year on campus? Kirk Ferentz has always said that the closer you are to the football, the harder it is to play as a true freshman. While that may be true, Iowa might not have a choice if one or two members of the incoming freshman class can make a difference this year. Leading that list are Jaleel Johnson, who has the frame to play right away, and Faith Ekakitie, who could end up playing defensive tackle with Johnson. Drew Ott and Daumantas Venckus appear to need some time to develop before seeing the field.


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