Most of the talk regarding the Iowa football team this spring is going to be about rebuilding the offensive line. With only two starters back, there are a lot of unknowns there.
But there similar mysteries – if not similar concerns — regarding the three linebacker positions. The Hawkeyes essentially have five guys contending for three spots.
All five candidates are juniors or seniors. All weigh between 232 and 238 pounds. All have played quite a bit, at least on special teams. All have their best football in front of them.
Jeremiha Hunter is the one guy with really extensive playing experience. He has been the starting weakside linebacker for the past two seasons and although he usually was overshadowed by the departed Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds, he’s been a very solid player. You might remember him as the guy who blocked the second field goal attempt against Northern Iowa to preserve a 17-16 victory in last year’s season opener.
Hunter has been backed up for two years by Jeff Tarpinian, a highly regarded player who has been patiently waiting for his chance to play.
When it was determined just before kickoff of the Minnesota game last season that neither Hunter or Tarpinian could play, the Hawkeyes tossed Troy Johnson into the weakside breach. All he did was earn Big Ten Defensive Player of Week honors with his performance.
Bruce Davis looked like an animal on special teams and in the few snaps he got in relief of An-gerer last season.
And Tyler Nielsen is one those guys we’ve been hearing about for a few years but seldom have seen because he was stuck behind Edds at the other outside linebacker position.
Now all these guys finally have a chance to start. The competition should be pretty intense.
Going into spring drills, Hunter, Johnson and Nielsen are listed as the starters but it wouldn’t be a shock to see Davis and Tarpinian in the lineup next fall. Whoever ends up on the field, Ferentz is confident they’ll do a great job. They might not be Angerer and Edds, but they’ll be solid.
“Quite frankly I’m almost more worried about a year from now at our linebacker spots,’’ Ferentz admitted. “Sounds kind of funny, with two pretty good seniors graduating, but we are top heavy age wise.’’
He said we’ll undoubtedly see one or two freshmen play a lot of special teams next fall – probably James Morris and possibly Austin Gray? – if only to give them some experience for the following season when Hunter, Johnson and Tarpinian will be gone.