This item was authored by HawkeyeGameFilm, a former BCS conference football player and a person who has done scouting work for high school, college and professional football teams. What follows are his thoughts on Iowa’s offense during their final Saturday practice.
The story of the defense and probably the entire scrimmage was Carl Davis. Iowa’s coaching staff has been singing the praises of Carl Davis this spring and they believed he had turned the corner. It sure looked like it from where I was sitting at Saturday’s scrimmage. Davis consistently was disruptive and showed the ability to get a pass rush for the first time since he’s been at Iowa in the public eye. Davis piled up three sacks, a couple of TFLs in the run game, and batted down several passes as well. The biggest difference to me in Davis’s play was how consistent he was in his get-off and his hand usage. His pad level was way down compared to how he played last year; where too often he was standing straight up. He has the size and strength to treat offensive lineman like rag dolls, especially if they are undersized. Several times he won with a quick first step as well. Davis could be a force this fall if he can stay healthy.
Davis wasn’t the only one batting down passes; I counted another 4-5 passes that were batted down by other lineman. This is an area where Iowa really needs to improve in ’13. With so many teams throwing the ball quickly and operating primarily from the shotgun it’s key for Iowa’s defensive linemen to get their hands up and in passing lanes.
Darian Cooper also had himself a nice day in the scrimmage. He had a sack and caused some havoc inside. He has a knack for shooting through gaps and disrupting the run game. Cooper doesn’t consistently compress the pocket with a bull rush but can definitely cause some issues with his quickness. Cooper has been building steam slowly starting about mid-way through last season and appears to be on a strong upward trend.
Behind Cooper, Jaleel Johnson looked like he could push for reps this fall as well. Johnson is pretty raw but has a lot of physical ability. He isn’t great with his hands yet and often lets opposing offensive lineman get into his pads but shows some quickness and burst for a big guy. He did appear to wear down some in the scrimmage but it likely won’t be an issue as he’ll be working in a heavy rotation.
Outside of Dom Alvis, there are no clear cut contributors at DE at this point. There were reasons for optimism at times on Saturday. Drew Ott batted down some passes, Riley McMinn did as well and had a strip sack, and Mike Hardy showed toughness against the run. None of the three really separated themselves but each showed a spark. Faith Ekakitie has moved out to DE for the time being as well but looks as if his best fit may be down inside. That spot is likely to be a bit of a trial and error spot with the competition likely to carry well into the start of the season. At this point all their options are healthy and Iowa will need one or more to emerge as guys who can at least play sound responsibility football.
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For the most part the starters looked the same out there to me. Morris looked reliable and appears to be healthy. Kirksey looked fluid and athletic and spent most of his time over slot receivers. Hitchens looked a little more under control to me during the scrimmage and he seemed to be squaring up his hits a little better this spring.
Right behind the starters you have Quinton Alston who I think provides little to no drop off at this point when he steps on the field. Alston is now a veteran in terms of years at Iowa but has had limited opportunities on the field. He’s very good when playing aggressively and can really make the pads pop inside. Alston does look a little awkward in his pass drops at times and definitely can struggle to match up with faster RBs and TEs in man coverage. Much like Morris, when he takes proper angles in coverage he does fine but when he takes false steps, he lacks the athleticism to make up for it.
There appears to be quality depth behind Kirksey as well. Travis Perry has continued to impress me this spring. He’s athletic enough to run with WRs and TEs underneath and also isn’t afraid to mix it up in the box. He got his feet wet in ’12 and is no longer a raw, undersized converted safety. He made some mistakes in ’12 when filling in for Hitchens but that kind of thing should be far less common going forward. He has a clear hold on the back up spot behind Kirksey.
The WLB depth also looks very solid with both Cole Fisher and Marcus Collins looking like capable guys. Fisher is extremely mobile for a LB and almost looks lake a SS to me at times. He looks like he could stand to add some functional bulk and size to his frame.That said he has shown himself to be sound tackler who wraps up. He saw some spot duty in ’12 and could earn some reps with sound play. If Fisher is hurt or his level of play declines it looked like to me Collins would be ready to step in and compete pretty quickly. Collins is undersized but is an high motor, high energy player. He flies around the field and has excellent closing speed. He looks a little raw as far as instincts and finding the football at times, but there’s definitely no lack of effort from him.
BJ Lowery has shown steady improvement over his career at Iowa and it’s hard to believe he’s already a senior. Lowery is more physical than his size would indicate and he’s a feisty competitor. During the scrimmage he was all over Tevaun Smith like he was his shadow. Smith struggled beating Lowery in press coverage and really looked like Smith was over-matched by Lowery most of the time. Lowery’s biggest concern in the past has been his tendency to not turn and find the ball in man turn vs vertical routes. Outside of that issue there’s not much to critique about Lowery. He breaks on routes in front of him extremely well and has a smooth back pedal. He has excellent man coverage skills overall and is tough to shake. If he can show improvement turning and finding the football in ’13 he should climb draft boards and continue Iowa’s streak of having a defensive back drafted each of the last six drafts(’08-’13).
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At the other corner spot Iowa will have a first time starter in Jordan Lomax. Lomax saw a lot of throws in the scrimmage due to Lowery being so effective on his half of the field. Lomax was hit with some penalties after being overly physical and caught out of position a few times. He’s definitely got the physical tools to play quality man coverage but needs experience on the field. He’s at his best being physical and playing bump and run man coverage. Speaking to him after the game it wasn’t surprising to find out he prefers man coverage to zone, and press coverage in-particular. If Lomax struggles it’s likely Sean Draper will get a shot at the 2nd corner spot. Draper has been the nickel CB for Iowa thus far this Spring and has done a nice job.
The strong safety spot continues to belong to John Lowdermilk with Nico Law dinged up and on the sidelines. Lowdermilk took nearly all the reps with the first team defense again during the scrimmage as he did in the Des Moines practice. Law stepped on the field for one series with the twos defense before moving around stiffly and standing around for the rest of the day. Lowdermilk had some breakdowns in terms of technique and angles. He was chewed on by Phil Parker a couple of times for giving up outside leverage to KMM in the slot. Lowdermilk isn’t going to match up with most slot WRs very often but he looked good playing Iowa’s mix of zone coverages. He’s a better physical match for TEs and did better matching them in man coverage. Lowdermilk was a little sloppy as a tackler in run support but it looked like something that can be cleaned up. It’s likely the battle between Law and Lowdermilk will carry into Fall camp.
The free-safety spot clearly belongs to Tanner Miller who seems to be settling back in this spring after some mishaps late in ’12. With Iowa playing more man coverage it’s key for Miller to get adequate depth in his pass drop as the FS and he appeared to be doing that Saturday. He also did a nice job not biting up on routes in front of him with WRs going vertical on the outside a couple of times. For a FS in man-free the ability to follow the QBs eyes is a very important skill and Miller was doing a nice job in that department on Saturday. He’s been a sound tackler for most of his career and does a nice job tackling low in run support most times. When he did struggle as a tackler it was usually rooted in taking poor angles and diving at ball carriers. Iowa also used him on more blitz looks than you’d expect Saturday so it may be something to watch for in ’13.
Behind Miller is pretty clearly Anthony Gair. Gair is a little raw as you might expect from a RS Freshman but showed some positive signs, much as he did in the Des Moines open practice. Gair displays good athleticism and has range as a free safety. He showed decent man coverage skills and may be able to step down and match up vs slot receivers.