What We Learned: Phil Parker Press Conference

August 20, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Eleven days away from the season-opener against Miami (Ohio), Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker indicated Tuesday here at a press conference that position battles are ongoing on his unit.

Perhaps the tightest competition is taking place at free safety, where last year’s starter, Jake Gervase, currently is trying to make the Los Angeles Rams. Sophomores Kaevon Merriweather and Jack Koerner are running a close race.

Merriweather has been listed as the starter since the spring. Koerner has gained on him.

“Jack Koerner has done a great job; is pushing in there. He has a chance to help us out there at that position. There’s a lot of competition in the back end going on. I don’t think we have anything nailed down yet. Here in another week or so, I’ll start making decisions,” Parker said.

Merriweather (6-0, 210) was one of three true freshmen that did not red shirt last season. He learned behind Gervase and continued improving through the spring. He may have hit a wall to some degree.

“I think he has some growing to do, a little bit,” Parker said. “I’m concerned with it. I think Jack has really helped push the situation there. So, there’s good competition there.

“(Merriweather) did a great job in the spring. Sometimes guys get to where they’ve got to keep pushing themselves and keep on getting better. We’ve got a week and a half before a game, so we’ll see.”

Koerner (6-0, 204) missed the early part of camp, including Kids Day, with an injury. The walk-on from West Des Moines Dowling Catholic has made up for lost time.

“Just the way he controls the back end, he understands what we’re doing, recognizes formations, understands the play, sees what’s going on. He’s made some plays. I wouldn’t say Jake Gervase, but he has some similar things of how Jake was when he was young, a Derek Pagel type of guy, slowly comes on and all of a sudden ends up starting for you,” Parker said.

Senior walk-on Wes Dvorak also is pushing for playing time at safety, Parker said.

“I tell you what, he’s really done a good job. In the last week, he’s really picked up his stock. We’ll see how it goes,” he said.

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Nixon Emerging: Parker singled out sophomore defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon when asked about players emerging in fall camp.

“He’s kind of jumped up a little bit, got in shape, and he’s doing a real good job inside for us,” he said.

Parker likes Nixon’s hustle and effort. He also praises his leadership.

“It’s really exciting to have more guys with that energy you need. It brings juice to the defense,” he said.

Parker is comfortable playing two deep along the line and could go deeper at tackle.

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-D.J. Johnson remains in front in the competition for the Cash position. He’s also working in the nickel, where he lines up outside at corner.

“We’re very happy with what he’s doing,” Parker said. “He’s getting better every day. He’s learning and he’s maturing. We will have other guys working there (at Cash), though.”

-Amani Jones and Joe Evans, guys who converted to defensive end from linebacker this offseason, have impressed Parker both in sub packages and with their hands down on the ground during early downs.

-Kristian Welch and Djimon Colbert still are holding down starting spots at linebacker. Parker mentioned Dillon Doyle, Seth Benson and true freshman Jack Campbell as guys also playing well there.

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“I think we have four or five guys. I think that’s a really close battle going on there. And it’s nice to have a battle going on because everybody’s working to be better,” Parker said.

-Parker did not seemed caught off guard that redshirt freshman linebacker Jayden McDonald left the team recently and transferred to Troy.

“I can see, maybe, for all the guys that are in front of him. For whatever reason, I’m not surprised by anybody nowadays by what they do and how they go about things. But I liked him. I wish him the best,” he said.

-Parker indicated that he could see more true freshmen helping on special teams this season than they did in 2018. He didn’t name anyone in particular.

-Dane Belton worked with the second team during Kids Day. The true freshmen safety from Florida has continued giving the coaches something to think about.

“He’s one of those guys that we’re still trying to bring along and trying to make a decision what we’re going to do with him,” Parker said.

Here’s video of Parker’s press conference on Tuesday:

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