April 13, 2011
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- For the University of Iowa defense, it's a matter of when, not if.
The Hawkeyes are busy identifying replacements for six starters from the 2010 Insight Bowl championship team that finished sixth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in fewest rushing yards allowed (101.54 per game) and seventh in fewest points allowed (17 points a game).
"I do think we'll be fairly good, it is just a question when" said UI defensive coordinator Norm Parker. "We have some young guys and some things to clean up, but they are aggressive guys that can run fast. All of that seems to be going pretty good."
Parker addressed media Wednesday inside the Hayden Fry Football Complex, hours before Iowa participated in its 13th practice of the spring. Parker was his characteristically witty self, and between smiles and laughs, you could sense his excitement for the potential of his next defensive group.
"We can be decent and they are fun to coach," Parker said. "They are young. They are getting better. They play hard. They make mistakes."
The next monumental step in the development progression is Saturday's Coca-Cola Classic Spring Practice. The Hawkeyes will go through drills Wednesday and Thursday and then they will have a day off before the open-to-the-public practice. Parker said it will be interesting to watch the players compete Saturday with limited instructions from the coaching staff.
"It will be fun to see them when they go out on the field by themselves and there's nobody telling them, `Watch this and watch that, and check this and check that', and everybody is standing on the sidelines and they have to go out there themselves and do it," Parker said. "Sometimes it's a lot different when they have to go out there themselves and do it."
The UI defense returns all-Big Ten cornerback Shaun Prater, Insight Bowl MVP Micah Hyde (who has moved from corner to free safety), honorable mention all-Big Ten defensive tackle Mike Daniels, Academic All-District VII linebacker Tyler Nielsen and linebacker James Morris, who was named to multiple freshman All-America teams. Defensive end Broderick Binns and linebacker Shane DiBona were part-time starters a year ago.
Prater bypassed the NFL Draft for one more season in black and gold, and he will lead a secondary that has caught the eye of UI offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe in the spring.
"The secondary is playing well -- very well, fast, running to the ball, covering a lot of ground," O'Keefe said.
"Shaun Prater has got more get up and go in him than probably all of us in this room," Parker said. "He's like the Energizer Bunny; you turn him on and he just goes. He loves to play and he loves to go fast."
Parker added that Hyde looks good at free safety and Collin Sleeper, who is penciled in as a starter at strong safety, "Has a lot of ability. He can run like a deer and he'll hit you."
Sleeper was a high school teammate of Morris. Parker said Morris has picked up where he left off last season (70 tackles) and improved.
"He's got good speed and he's really into the game," Parker said. "He's sort of the All-American boy. He works hard, he studies hard. He does everything right."
Then Parker couldn't resist a playful jab at Morris's father, UI equipment manager, Greg.
"He's overcome his dad and he's doing really good," Parker said to a roomful of laughter.
The improvement of Morris is one of the bright spots of the spring as far as the Hawkeye defense is concerned. Parker sees three others:
"B.J. Lowery has made some plays on the ball, some interceptions," Parker said. "Then the two linebackers -- (Anthony) Hitchens and (Christian) Kirksey -- they are good hitters. They can run and they can hit you and there's promise there."
An updated depth chart shows the following first-teamers: Binns and Lebron Daniel at end, Daniels and Carl Davis at tackle; Kirksey, Morris and Nielsen at linebacker, Prater and Greg Castillo at cornerback, Hyde at free safety and Sleeper at strong safety.
Another goal during the next few valuable practices is to find that next Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey or Cab Calloway -- you know, the leader of the band...more specifically, the leader of the defense.
"It's good to find out who is going to be the leader out there," Parker said. "Which guy is going to grab the control a lot of guys like to play in the band, but not a lot of guys like to lead the band. We have to find out who wants to lead the band out there."
Gates open at 10:30 a.m. (CT) for the Coca-Cola Classic Spring Practice on Saturday, April 16. Actual practice begins at approximately noon. Parker expects the defense to run, hit and play hard, but most importantly, he hopes everyone emerges injury-free.
"When the day is over, I hope they are still all there and nobody gets hurt," Parker said. "That's the big thing because this is a fun group to coach. They are eager to learn and they are eager to practice."
Iowa opens the season Saturday, Sept. 3, against Tennessee tech inside Kinnick Stadium.