John Waggoner Northwestern

Iowa’s defensive line is deep. Not as experienced as the past, but deep.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker said earlier this month that has many as 10 linemen could be in the rotation, which means experience and versatility are big keys to playing time.

John Waggoner falls into both categories.

Waggoner, a junior, is listed at No. 1 on the depth chart at left end. He can play all four line positions — “I’m comfortable at D-end right now, but I’ll do whatever it takes,” Waggoner said — but Parker said he is comfortable with having Waggoner on the edge.

Waggoner’s first three seasons — he redshirted in 2018, played in 10 games in 2019, and four games last season — have been about learning from the veteran players who have moved on to NFL success.

“Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of reps and I’ve learned a lot from the guys ahead of me,” he said. “I’m just trying to take each opportunity as it comes and keep getting better.”

It was all about patience.

“I tried to look at those opportunities in the past as opportunities to learn from guys that have done it before,” he said. “I saw each day as an opportunity to get better, and that’s what I’m going to try to keep doing.”

But last season was kind of a lost year. Waggoner’s season was limited after he contracted COVID-19. He had just three tackles and one quarterback pressure.

“I’ve had some adversity,” Waggoner said.

He has gained Parker’s appreciation.

“We’re pleased with what he’s given us,” Parker said.

Now healthy, Waggoner has grown into his position. At 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds, Waggoner said that it took some time to grow into his body after he arrived on campus.

“I feel great where I am right now,” he said.

It showed in last Saturday’s practice, when he put a hard hit on running back Tyler Goodson on a running play.

“My first instinct was to make sure T-Good was all good,” Waggoner said.

Waggoner’s education hasn’t come from just the other defensive linemen. It’s come from going against offensive linemen like Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson.

“Iron,” Waggoner said, “sharpens iron.”

It’s a new rotation of linemen that will have to live up to the recent past.

“The bar is definitely high, and we definitely try to carry it on,” Waggoner said. “I think there’s definitely a healthy pressure to be as good as we can be as a group.”