March 29, 2012

Spring Outlook: LB

The good news for Iowa fans is that the Hawkeyes linebackers will have a nice amount of experience and depth heading into the 2012 season. That is as long as everyone can stay healthy, which has certainly been an issue the last two years. Leading the charge will be Iowa's top two returning tacklers, James Morris and Christian Kirksey.


Starters Lost: Tyler Nielsen

Starters Returning: James Morris and Christian Kirksey

Two Deeps:

OLB: Christian Kirksey (JR), Shane DiBona (JR)
MLB: James Morris (JR), Quinton Alston (SO)
WLB: Anthony Hitchens (JR), Marcus Collins (SO)/Cole Fisher (R-FR)

The Numbers: James Morris: 110 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 1 interception. Christian Kirksey: 110 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 interception. Anthony Hitchens: 25 tackles. Marcus Collins: 8 tackles. Quinton Alston: 7 tackles, .5 for loss.

Overview

After a couple of seasons of depth issues and inexperience, the Iowa linebackers will be among the deepest positions on the Hawkeye roster in 2012. Led by returning starters James Morris and Christian Kirksey, the teams two leading tacklers in 2011, Iowa has a good base to work from heading next season.

Iowa loses Tyler Nielsen, who battled injuries in his senior campaign, but his replacement in the starting line-up has already gotten his feet wet in the past two years. Anthony Hitchens has primarily played on special teams since arriving two years ago. He has done well at linebacker when given the opportunity.

The biggest news this year is Iowa has some depth at the linebacker position and along with that depth, they also have guys who have at least a year under their belt, so if called upon, the learning curve will not be as steep as it was for guys like Morris and Kirksey two years ago when they were called upon due to injury.

Quinton Alston played a little bit at middle linebacker last year as a freshman and also participated on special teams. Marcus Collins was on special teams for most of the season getting his feet wet. Jim Poggi returned to action late in the season after various health and injury issues and should get an opportunity on special teams this fall. Dakota Getz saw his season end early last year with a knee injury, but he should be ready to go by the time fall camp arrives in early August and he could contribute on special teams. After redshirting last year, Cole Fisher has left enough of an impression to be in the two deeps this spring. That usually bodes pretty well for the future.

Biggest Question

Not a lot of questions about the linebackers this season and we haven't been able to say that for a few years. Perhaps the one question that could pop up is how set is this lineup at all three positions?

Much like the offensive lineman at Iowa, the Hawkeye coaches like to train their linebackers to play two or perhaps all three positions in a pinch. Last year they moved around James Morris and Tyler Nielsen during the year, with Nielsen ending up playing the middle and Morris sliding back outside.

Would the Iowa coaches be open to moving Morris back outside if sophomore Quinton Alston has a strong spring and fall camp? While the door appears to be at least open to the possibility, it will also depend on how Hitchens develops as a possible starter. The best bet is that Morris stays in the middle with Hitchens and Kirksey on the outside, but at this time we can't completely rule out a run by Alston to create a conversation.

One other question this spring would have to surround a new position coach. With Darrell Wilson moving to the secondary, LeVar Woods jumps in to coach the linebackers. Two years ago when Norm Parker was out, Woods stepped in and helped with the linebackers and he also played the position at Iowa and in the NFL, so the learning curve won't be significant, if at all.

One other question with the linebackers is will new defensive coordinator Phil Parker bring a more aggressive style this fall? We might get a few hints this spring, but will linebackers continue to be asked to play in space against slot receivers? Will we see more blitzes from Iowa's linebackers? The answer to the first question is probably less linebackers on slot receivers. As far as more blitzes, time will tell.

The Future

Iowa will add two linebackers this fall in Laron Taylor and Nate Meier, who will be given a shot at running back, but more than likely will end up at linebacker this year. The best guess is that given the depth at the position, both would redshirt this year unless they can help on special teams.


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