Hawkeyes Feel Good About Depth at Defensive Tackle
IOWA CITY, Iowa – When the final horn sounded at the end Iowa’s Outback Bowl upset of Mississippi State Jan. 1, the careers of starting defensive tackles Matt Nelson and Sam Brincks also expired. Work then began on finding new guys at the position.
Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff, would be seniors with experience, showed in the spring that they would be the starters. A trio of players emerged as backups, providing much-needed depth.
Austin Schulte, Daviyon Nixon and Noah Shannon have traveled much different paths to likely playing time this fall. They’ve shared in common focusing on the necessary details this offseason to getting it.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz spoke about being impressed with them during his media day press conference on Friday. Position coach Kelvin Bell agreed with his boss.
“It starts in the meeting room with the way that they take notes, the way that they’re answering the questions and the good questions that they come back with. It lets me know that they’re thinking right. Then on the field, they’re physically impressive guys,” Bell said.
None of them has taken a snap in an Iowa game, but Bell sees progress in practice.
“You can see that the physicality of those guys is much greater than it was a year ago. We are going to need them in terms of depth. They have to earn the reps, but they’re guys that right now I have no problem putting in with the ones or the twos. We don’t miss a beat,” he said.
Schulte serves as a leader on the line despite his inexperience in games. It stems from his perseverance.
The Pella High product suffered two ACL tears during his senior year. Recovery slowed his development in college.
“Quite frankly, two years ago, I was worried about him getting injured out there just because of the rehabs that he had gone through. It was hard for him,” Ferentz said.
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“But boy, I’ll tell you, he’s really just stayed with it. He’s just kept working very quietly. I thought he did some really good things in the spring, and there’s no question he’ll be a guy that’ll have a role this year for us.”
Schulte (6-4, 287) played linebacker and tight end in high school. He started off at defensive end for Iowa then was switched to the offensive line. He moved to defensive tackle last season and earned a team-leader award on that side of the ball.
This spring, Bell turned to Schulte to help with the installation of the defense. He’s been grateful for everything after what he’s been through.
“It really makes you appreciate it more knowing there are a lot of people that can’t do it because of injuries, and that you were lucky enough to come back from an injury and still have a chance to contribute to the team and be part of such a great team,” he said.
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Nixon qualified late academically coming out of Kenosha (WI) Indian Trail High as a member of the 2017 recruiting class. He ended up playing that fall at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs. While there, he picked up an offer from Alabama.
He stuck with his Iowa commitment because the Hawkeye staff stayed with him. Last year, he redshirted, focusing on his academics. He spent time away from the team in the fall for an undisclosed reason and entered the transfer portal in January. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue with the Hawkeyes but ultimately decided that he did.
“Honestly, it’s been like reading a book, really. You go through every day, you turn the page to the next page. And the more and more you read, the more and more you learn and the more and more you you appreciate your life and the game of football,” he said.
Despite missing important practice time in the fall, Nixon (6-3, 309) made up for what he lost during spring practice.
“He did miss some time, but he’s caught up. He’s done a good job of getting himself back in shape,” Bell said.
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Nixon soaked up defensive installation like a sponge. He’s progressed noticeably in the mental understanding of the game.
“You have the physical tools of a kid like that. Now when you put the attention to detail and the honest self evaluation that he has about what he sees in film everyday, he’s improving at a rapid rate,” Bell said.
Shannon (6-0, 294) spent last season, his first on campus, running with the scout team and improving his conditioning. His progress showed this spring and summer.
“Noah Shannon has had an amazing body transformation. He’s lost like 28 pounds since he got here,” Bell said.
He looked much quicker at Saturday’s Kids Day practice at Kinnick. With it, he maintained his power.
“I’m kind of taking it slow right now just learning from the older guys like (ends) Chauncey (Golston) and A.J. (Epenesa). Austin Schulte has been a big help. He’s my roommate. I’m kind of just taking it day by day, but if my number is called I do believe I’ll be ready,” Shannon said.