Back End Switch?

March 30, 2011

Written by Jon Miller

Hawkeye Nation

During last week’s first press conference of the Spring Football ‘season’, Kirk Ferentz was asked whether or not Micah Hyde might get a look at free safety this year, due to the loss of senior Brett Greenwood.

While Ferentz didn’t spend much time with the answer, he said that it might be a possibility.

In Ferentz speak, that means Hyde was certainly going to get some reps on the back end of the defense as opposed to what the staff knows he can bring as a cornerback, where he played last year.

To say Hyde was picture perfect as a corner in 2010 would be a gross overstatement, however I think Hyde had a better year than some of his critics. When you get beat on a play at corner, or when you break down in what your assignment is, that mistake can get pretty obvious…that’s all the more true if your safety help is supposed to be in a different area of the field and you don’t take care of your assignment.

Iowa plays a lot of two deep zone, and the corners will give a soft cushion at times (especially when they are younger), willing to yield the short completions but make sure to protect against getting beat deep. At times, this has driven some fans nuts but the truth of the matter is there are not many college quarterbacks that are patient and accurate enough to put together numerous 10-plus play drives against the Iowa defense when it’s playing its team concept. Last year was, as Norm Parker put it, the Year of the Quarterback in the Big Ten and it was the exception, rather than the…well…norm.

Here’s a thought; would Iowa prefer to have a great free safety and an average to above average corner, or an untested and averaged to above average free safety and a good to potentially very good corner?

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I think the former would be their choice, given that Shaun Prater is the corner on the opposite side of the field for next year as a senior. Prater is good, and he has a reputation around the league for being good. I am not going to say he is in Amari Spievey’s category of lockdown just yet, but he’s getting there. If you have a younger and or untested corner on the opposite side of the field, with a tested and proven veteran on the other side, teams are probably going to game plan to the path of least resistance…you can then get safety help from a veteran on the backside, especially a free safety with a nose for the ball as Hyde has shown.

BJ Lowery and Greg Castillo were listed as the backup corners on the spring two deep and Jordan Bernstine got a mention from coach Ferentz in his spring presser. Those players will get long looks this spring and fall with regards to that corner position, because it seems like the staff feels Micah Hyde may be their best option at free safety. Marc Morehouse of The Gazette tweeted the following on Tuesday afternoon: “Hyde is practicing at free safety and that sounds as though it’s starting to be a real thing.”

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Back to Bernstine for a second, here is what Ferentz said about him last week:

Q. Jordan Bernstine had that broken foot. Is he healthy?

COACH FERENTZ: “Two things. He is healthy. Secondly, we’re probably more eager this year to see what happens with him. Probably the biggest debate is he going to work inside or outside. His single best play was what he did at the Insight Bowl. He made a play right in front of our bench. If he has a few more of those in his pocket, that would be great. I’m hopeful he does. The injury he went through two years ago was very extensive. I thought he came back amazingly well and amazingly fast from that from the way it was described to me. It was a noncontact injury. I’ll just elaborate a little bit. It was a non-contact injury. The medical staff said they’d never seen anything like that in a non-contact injury. A guy on a motorcycle, that’s a different deal. For him to come back the way he did, that was really something. Then, secondly, he’s going into his senior year right now. When that window gets tight, I think it usually brings the best out of players. He’s coming off an injury, I think he’s eager to get back on the field. We’re real eager to see him compete.”

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When you have a physically gifted player, as Bernstine is, who has been hampered by injuries, is nearly back to full health and is faced with his last chance to make a push towards keeping the dream of ‘The League’ alive, as in the NFL, we’ve seen numerous players step up and make their best contributions. Most kids think they have a shot at the league. Bernstine has the size and he has the speed and athletic ability; he just hasn’t had the time. NOTE: I was exchanging tweets on this matter with DJK, and he added that he thinks “Bernstine would better serve the defense as a safety; sure tackler, below average coverage skills.”..that, according to Iowa’s all time leading receiver that saw a lot of Bernstine in practice the last several years.

It will be interesting to watch what transpires in the Iowa secondary this spring. Iowa has long held the philosophy of putting out the best five on the offensive line or the best four on the defensive line and the best three at linebacker, and then worry about what position they play later. Hyde and Prater are two of your best four. If one of Lowery, Bernstine or Castillo can rise up and be a better corner than say Tanner Miller is as a free safety, that’s how a switch like this gets made.

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