Friday, September 23, 2005

Problems Start Up Front for Hawkeyes

Iowa is a team without an identity and a serious problem along its defensive front because of defections from the 2002 and 2003 recruiting classes (subscription, so story is in the comments tab). The Hawkeyes have spent the fall trying to piece together a unit that averages 261 pounds a man and they promise adjustments for Saturday’s game at Ohio State, which is angry over getting drilled by Iowa, 33-7, last season, but struggling on offense (registration).

1 comment:

dawizofodds said...

Attrition condition

Roster dropouts throw Iowa defensive linemen huge learning curve

Marc Morehouse
Cedar Rapids Gazette

IOWA CITY — When a college football team goes from all seniors to all underclassmen at a given position, that’s a depth chart earthquake.

Iowa’s defensive line has gone through such an earthquake.

Last season, defensive coordinator Norm Parker slept serenely with four senior starters along the defensive line. You know all about Matt Roth and Jonathan Babineaux.

But in the back of all Iowa’s coaches’ minds, they could see that roster attrition would be a factor in this season’s defensive line.

‘‘There’s one player right now who could help us out an awful lot who just chose not to go to school anymore,’’ Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. ‘‘Those things, you can’t explain them.’’

Ferentz didn’t specify who he was talking about, but it could’ve been Matt Neubauer, who had five tackles for loss and three sacks in 2003. He’d be a senior this season, but he walked away from school in April 2004, saying he couldn’t find an academic field that interested him.

It could’ve been George Eshareturi, a 6-foot-3, 286-pounder who transferred to Rutgers before Iowa’s fall camp. It could’ve been Richard Kittrell, a 300-pounder who left Iowa and is now at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls.

Ferentz could’ve been talking about a lot of D-line departures.

The 2002 recruiting class is missing Eric Zilisch, the Wisconsin lineman of the year coming out of high school, Larry Thomas and Steve Burch. Zilisch and Thomas quit. Burch flunked out and transferred to Kansas State.

You might throw Warren McDuffie in there. He came to Iowa as a defensive end. He was kicked off the team after a March 2004 drunken driving arrest. He’s now a tight end at North Iowa Area Community College.

Kittrell and Eshareturi burned out of the 2003 class. Iowa also had a prospect named Teraz McCray who signed to a national letter of intent in ’03, but McCray had a change of heart, was let out of his commitment and enrolled at Miami (Fla.). He tore an ACL this spring, but was a regular in the Hurricanes’ rotation before the injury.

‘‘I don’t know who he (McCray) is,’’ Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway said. ‘‘It’s all a crapshoot. Maybe this kid or that kid would’ve been all-American or would’ve given us a body. But they might’ve flunked out of school, too.’’

It’s not that anyone is pining for ‘‘The Big Human,’’ a nickname that Kittrell earned in high school and eventually shunned at Iowa.

Iowa coaches like their current group on the D-line, but it’s undeniably young and undersized.

All of them will be seeing their first significant time in a Big Ten game Saturday when the No. 21 Hawkeyes (2-1) head into No. 8 Ohio State (2-1).

‘‘I haven’t played behind George in a game or McCray,’’ linebacker Abdul Hodge said. ‘‘So, I don’t know what they’re capable of. We’re confident in the guys we have up front. We have a good group. They’re young, but they listen and work hard. When you have that, you have something good.’’

The current depth chart includes three sophomores (Kenny Iwebema, Bryan Mattison and Alex Willcox), three red-shirt freshmen (Matt Kroul, Mitch King and Ted Bentler), two true freshmen (Ryan Bain and Alex Kanellis) and fifth-year senior (Mike Follett) in his first season at the position.

Every player goes through their first big-game jitters. Iowa’s D-line could form its own support group for first big-game jitters.

‘‘It’s not a perfect design,’’ Ferentz said. ‘‘You’d rather have more balance in your depth chart, but things didn’t work out that way. All that being said, I feel good about the group.’’

The Hawkeyes went into the 2003 season dangerously thin at wide receiver. Six players had dropped due to attrition. Then-sophomore Ed Hinkel spent most of the season rehabbing a groin injury. Then-star Mo Brown spent most of the season playing on an ankle with screws in it.

Ramon Ochoa and Calvin Davis grew up fast and went one and three on the team in receptions.

The 2005 D-line, though, is more like the 2000 offensive line.

Led by Eric Steinbach, then a 250-pounder, Iowa’s O-line barely survived. Steinbach, Robert Gallery, Bruce Nelson, David Porter and Andy Lightfoot stayed together, did all the requisite weight training and lowered the boom on the Big Ten in 2002.

It might be hard to imagine, but when Gallery switched from tight end to offensive tackle he was nearly 70 pounds lighter than the 325-pounder now wearing an Oakland Raiders uniform.

‘‘Offensive and defensive line, you’re talking about 22-year-old, 23-year-old guys banging on 18, 19, 20,’’ Ferentz said. ‘‘It makes a difference. Physical maturity shows up more closer to the football. Especially at a place like Iowa.

‘‘We’re not getting (former Iowa all-American) Alex Karras’ grandson. He’s probably going to UCLA. We don’t get many freshman phenoms where they just come in and line up and play. That’s the difference between us and Ohio State or a Southern Cal.’’

The maturity factor will be punctuated at Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ O-line comprises two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore, a 325-pound soph named Kirk Barton.

The Buckeyes’ five average 305 pounds. Iowa’s D-line averages 261 a player.

That’s a number that probably doesn’t wash with King and Kroul and Iwebema and the lot, but, with all the names that have gone into the wind, and now in 2005, Saturday at Ohio State, it’s part of the equation.

In three years, maybe not.

Ferentz loves to point out that Steinbach made his first start as a 250-pound guard at Ohio State in 1999. Iwebema, King, Kroul, Kanellis and Mattison will be in the 250 range at Ohio State in 2005.

‘‘I’m really optimistic, especially about the defensive line,’’ Ferentz said. ‘‘We’ve seen a lot of good things in three games from these guys. I think if we keep working smartly and working hard, we have a chance to make rapid gains with that group.’’

Contact the writer: marc.morehouse@gazettecommunications.com