IOWA CITY, Iowa – Cedrick Lattimore understands the position in which he finds himself. He’s stepping into the role occupied by one of Iowa’s most dominant defenders during the last two years.
Jaleel Johnson exhausted his eligibility last season with a first-team all-Big Ten campaign. His exit left a large void at the ultra important left defensive tackle spot. The coaches have looked to fill it this spring, starting with Lattimore.
Lattimore saw limited game reps as a true freshman in 2016. Receiving any playing time that early on the defensive front has been rare around here. That has created a buzz around him that has fostered high expectations.
“I’m ready to live up to it. I just try not to think about it, just focus on football,” the Detroit East English Village Prep product said.
The Hawkeyes fought off a strong push by Michigan State to flip Lattimore (6-5, 295) from his Iowa commitment throughout the recruiting process. The four-star prospect played mostly defensive end in high school.
Iowa’s coaches saw something early that led them to believe Lattimore could excel inside. He moved to tackle last August and hasn’t looked back. After adding 20 pounds during the few months after high school, he held up physically.
“Coming in I just wanted to learn. I wanted to play. I gained a lot of weight throughout the summer so when I put the pads on I was kind of big,” he said.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker still wants Lattimore to pack on more pounds for the rigors of playing inside. Johnson and Carl Davis, who held down the position in 2013-14 before joining the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, both tipped the scales at well over 300 pounds.
Still, even with the needed weight and strength, Lattimore appears well on his way to being the next standout D-Tackle, according to Hawkeye guard Sean Welsh, who faced Johnson and Davis in practice.
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“He’s a young guy and there’s a little inexperience that comes with that but he’s a great athlete,” Welsh said. “He moves fast. He’s a big guy. He’s a lot like Jaleel. He’s a lot like Carl Davis in the sense that they were big guys but they could move really well. So, you have to be ready for the speed or the bulk. I think he’s come a long way this spring but there’s more work to do.”
Lattimore called Johnson a big brother figure. The veteran helped the freshman with the transition from high school to college on and off the field, he said.
Johnson’s main message is perseverance. Playing inside on the line isn’t for the faint or heart. It gets nasty in there.
Sometimes tackles make plays noticeable to the average fan, as did Johnson with his impressive stop for a safety in the upset of Michigan in January. More often, they yield stats to linebackers and secondary men as they absorb blockers.
“If you do your job, the linebacker gets free and, hey, we’re all OK,” Lattimore said.
Staying confident fosters focus and production, Johnson told Lattimore.
“A lot goes on on the inside. You’ve got a lot of stuff coming at you. Just come off the ball, strain, be confident,” Lattimore said.
Parker said it was hard to determine now if Lattimore would log the amount of reps that Johnson and Davis did before him. Those guys didn’t start until they were in their fourth year. Lattimore said conditioning would be main focus leading into August camp along with playing more consistently with a lower pad level.
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“I think the thing about Cedrick that you love is he loves football,” defensive line coach Reese Morgan said. “He’s got a lot of pride. He cares passionately about the game. He doesn’t want to let anybody down. It bothers him a great deal when he makes a mistake, probably to a fault.”
Lattimore understands the defensive tackle lineage at Iowa. In the position meeting room, he’s reminded of it looking at pictures of Davis, Mike Daniels, Karl Klug and others in their NFL duds.
“We have a lot of (former players) come in and talk to us and tell us, basically, what we hear every day, just come to compete, fight and be tough. The main thing with Iowa football is we’re tough,” Lattimore said.
With the right attitude, Lattimore is well positioned to succeed.
“It’s a challenge each and every day but I want to live up to that challenge,” he said.