Iowa Football Position Preview: Three New Starters on D-Line
IOWA CITY, Iowa – No position on the Iowa roster has been hit by attrition more than the defensive line the last two off-seasons. The Hawkeyes have lost seven starters in that time.
Defensive end A.J. Epenesa declared for the NFL Draft in January following his junior year. Defensive tackles Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff exhausted their eligibility.
Fifth-year senior end Chauncey Golston is the only returning member of Iowa’s starting front four. When the Hawkeyes reconvene following the COVID-19 shutdown, they will be searching for starters and rotation pieces.
There’s experience at tackle. Daviyon Nixon and Austin Schulte return after seeing regular reps in 2019 as members of the rotation.
Nixon (6-3, 309) looks like a player ready for break out and become a household name. He’s an exceptional athlete for his size and is in Iowa City after turning down a scholarship offer from Alabama.
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As a redshirt sophomore last season, the Wisconsin product played in all 13 games with one start. He totaled 29 tackles (19 solo stops) with 5.5 stops for loss. He added three sacks, five quarterback pressures and one pass break-up.
There were times last season when Nixon moved outside with Epenesa shifting inside. It confused offenses and highlights both players’ athleticism.
Schulte (6-4, 287) earned the team’s comeback player of the year award last season. The redshirt senior tore his ACL twice during his last year in high school and it slowed his development at the college level. He showed in ’19 that he’s poised to step into a bigger role and already has displayed fine leadership ability.
Golston (6-5, 270) was overshadowed by Epenesa but enjoyed a nice season in his own right. The Detroit product earned Honorable mention All-Big Ten by league coaches and media, and Athlon’s pegged him third-team all-conference. He picked up the Team Hustle Award for defense after starting every games at defensive end, producing 47 tackles (26 solo stops, 9.5 for loss) three sacks, one interception, five pass break-ups and seven quarterback pressures.
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The NFL would have scooped up Golston had he come out early. He’s positioned himself for a pro career and could really raise his stock with a big ’20.
Golston, Nixon and Schulte provide Iowa with three strong building blocks for a solid defensive front. Finding another starter at end along with rotational pieces will determine if this unit sidesteps a drop-off like we saw at tight end last season.
Noah Shannon (6-0, 294) served as Iowa’s fifth tackle last season and should be ready for a bigger role this fall. He played in seven games, accumulating two solo tackles and three assists with a forced fumble and one recovered.
Zach VanValkenburg (6-4, 270), John Waggoner (6-5, 270) and Joe Evans (6-2, 240) saw time off the edge in ’19, albeit on a limited basis behind Epenesa and Golston. The latter moved from linebacker last spring and played well as a pass-rush specialist, delivering four sacks in eight games.
Waggoner played in 10 games as a redshirt freshman, chipping in a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. Programs like Ohio State, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Oklahoma and others offered him scholarships during the recruiting process.
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VanValkenburg transitioned from Division II Hinsdale College in Michigan last season. He posted six tackles (two solo) in 11 games and could be ready for a step forward after getting acclimated to a higher level.
Waggoner and VanValkenburg proved be four-down end types in ’19, while Evans saw the field on passing downs.
Beyond the aforementioned players, the rest of the guys at the position lack experience. There is promise in the group, however.
Logan Lee (6-5, 251) redshirted during his first year on campus in ’19. The coaches are high on this well-rounded athlete from Illinois, who was recruited as a tight end. He could line up at end or tackle.
Taajhir McCall (6-3, 231), Chris Reames (6-7, 230) and Jake Karchinski (6-4, 253) came in with Lee and red shirted last fall. All arrived on campus as ends but the latter could develop into a tackle. It’s hard to say if any of them will be ready for contributions in ’20.
Iowa could lean on a pair of well-developed incoming freshmen for reps.
Council Bluffs tackle Logan Jones brings to mind Tyler Linderbaum in terms of being an advanced prep performer that plays with great leverage and a mean streak. Fort Wayne, Ind. end Deontae Craig comes to town packed with promise.