Posted by: marcmwm | March 31, 2009

Four downs with the defensive backs

QUICK LOOK BACK: Three of four starters return from a group that helped tie a school record with 23 interceptions. Twelve of those interceptions came from defensive backs who’ll return next

Iowa defensive back Amari Spievey (19) runs into the end zone after intercepting a pass for a 57-yard touchdown during the second quarter of their game against Minnesota at the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008. (Jonathan D. Woods/The Gazette)

Iowa defensive back Amari Spievey (19) runs into the end zone after intercepting a pass for a 57-yard touchdown during the second quarter of their game against Minnesota at the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008. (Jonathan D. Woods/The Gazette)

 season — cornerback Amari Spievey, free safety Brett Greenwood and strong safety Tyler Sash. Spievey was the surprise of the season on the defensive side of the ball. The junior was a second-team all-Big Ten pick by league coaches. He had four interceptions and tied with Greenwood for third on the team with 68 tackles.  Sash saved his best for last with two picks in Iowa’s Outback Bowl victory over South Carolina. His two interceptions tied the bowl record and he set Outback records for longest return (48) and return yards (74). His 147 yards on five interception returns this season ranks second in Iowa history behind Mike Stoops, who had 154 yards on six interceptions in 1983. He was Big Ten player of the week after Penn State. Four of his tied-for-team-high five interceptions came in Iowa’s final four games. Greenwood was honorable mention all-Big Ten by league media. Here’s an award he received that’s intriguing, Win During the Week Award. That doesn’t come with any definition, but it’s likely an award based on effort and attention to detail during practice, something that carries a lot of weight with coaches.

The cornerback spot that Bradley Fletcher (a very good football player, a likely NFL draft pick) leaves open will likely be filled by junior Jordan Bernstine or sophomores Shaun Prater and William Lowe. Bernstine and Prater haven’t been starters but they’ve seen the field in nickel and dime packages many times last season. Lowe also saw some limited action as a true freshman.

FOURTH DOWN — CONCERNS: With healthy competition for the left corner, finding a No. 3 and 4 shouldn’t be a problem. Depth at safety might be a concern.

Diauntae Morrow announced his transfer in February. He would’ve been a junior and might’ve pushed for some serious playing time, especially with Sash and Greenwood sitting out spring practice with shoulder injuries. Watch the Illinois game. At some point in the second half, Morrow was in for Sash on a few obvious passing downs in the second half. But Sash didn’t fritter his opportunity and became the defense’s most improved player. So, Morrow is out. As for Lance Tillison, I counted him as a linebacker.

This pushes sophomore David Cato and redshirt freshman Jack Swanson up the depth chart. Cato had 13 tackles mostly on special teams last year. Swanson, out of Naples (Fla.) High School, came to Iowa in the 175-180 range and is now up to 195.

The other corner also needs mention here. Bernstine has earned first look. Prater, who was charged with drunken driving Feb. 28, faces a two-game suspension (Iowa’s first two games are Northern Iowa and Iowa State), coach Kirk Ferentz said. Prater has pleaded not guilty to the charge and demanded a speedy trial, which is to take place May 18.

THIRD DOWN — ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Fletcher got one year as the full-on starter and made the most of it. He had 60 tackles, a half sack, three interceptions, a team-high 10 pass breakups and a forced fumble. He was a complete football player. Opposing QBs didn’t know which side of the field to pick on between Fletcher and Spievey. Fletcher is a possible draft pick in about three weeks.

Morrow left with promise. His departure got Iowa fans’ attention. He was the only backup safety with real experience. This leaves a hole in the depth chart until Cato/Swanson show they’re ready.

Cornerback Greg Castillo joins Swanson in the redshirt class this season. Castillo’s dad, Juan, is the longtime O-line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. Greg, who had nine picks as a prep at St. Joseph’s Prep in Pa., is listed at No. 3 left corner right now behind Bernstine and Prater. Swanson was a first-team all-stater at Naples.

The only listed incoming freshman in the secondary is Micah Hyde (6-1, 170) from Fostoria, Ohio. Iowa coaches, particularly secondary coach Phil Parker, love Hyde and played a little recruiting poker with his offer, trying to keep the copycats at bay.

Ferentz said incoming freshman Josh Brown could contribute on defense, but, for now, is ticketed for wide receiver.

Cornerback Chris Rowell is the lone senior in the secondary. He was a fixture on special teams last season and should contribute there this year.

The list of walk-ons is long in the secondary. It includes Joe Conklin, Justin Greiner, Taylor Herbst, Nick Nielsen and probably a few more names that’ll come out in the fall.

SECOND DOWN — STRENGTHS: Greenwood, Sash and Speivey are strengths.

Here’s defensive coordinator Norm Parker on the three late last season:

On Speivey: “Spievey was a pleasant surprise. We talked about Spievey, but we didn’t know that he would have that kind of year. He’s been a real pleasant surprise.”

On Greenwood: “Greenwood has really come along. As you know, he was a walk-on. We always compared him when he was young, you know, he’s a young (Sean) Considine or a young (Derek) Pagel. He sort of came the same way. He’s become more assertive out there. The free safety has to be the quarterback out there a little bit. Here was a freshman that just got off a yellow school bus and he’s supposed to tell these other guys what to do. That’s not that easy. The more he’s learned it, the better he’s gotten at being assertive out there.”

On Sash: “My impression of Sash is I think he’s a darn good athlete. He’s like a lot of young guys. He really didn’t know if he was as good as the other guys. All of a sudden he’s found out practicing to say, ’Hey, I’m as good as those guys.’ Since then, he’s sort of taken off. He’s got a little swagger to him.”

Some internetters don’t buy in when Norm brings the praise. I do. The guy eats more football for breakfast than I’ll ever taste.

And we might as well beckon on the Greenwood haters while we’re at it. I don’t agree with this sentiment. I think the junior has grown leaps and bounds from his first appearance, a tough go at Penn State in 2007. I’m not saying you can’t voice your opinions, but I ask that you back it up with a play or an instance that sticks out in your mind. In my mind, he doesn’t deliver the knockout punch that, say, a Bob Sanders did, but who does? So, feel free to state your case.

FIRST DOWN — THE PLAY: Potentially, Iowa will have three juniors and a sophomore in the secondary next season. So, 2009 and ’10 are — barring injury, of course — nailed down. And with Prater, Lowe, Cato and Swanson, the 2011 group could, potentially, be booked. No, it probably won’t be that cut and dry, but you do have to like the talent and experience the Hawkeyes will have next season in the backfield.

Spievey is a returning second-team all-Big Ten pick. Sash and Greenwood already have 31 starts between them. Bernstine and Prater saw a lot of time in nickel and dime last season. Coaches thought enough of Lowe to burn his redshirt last season.

The experience factor gets stretched in the top eight, but I don’t see any gaping holes.

Starters — Speivey, Bernstine, Sash, Greenwood

Next — Prater, Lowe, Cato, Swanson

Incoming — Castillo, Swanson, Hyde

Surprise — Micah Hyde takes the redshirt off. PLUS, watch the race at left corner. Between Bernstine and Prater, Iowa should come up with a solid option.

Iowa's Brett Greenwood disrupts a pass intended for Minnesota's Eric Decker during Iowa's 55-0 victory last November. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Iowa's Brett Greenwood disrupts a pass intended for Minnesota's Eric Decker during Iowa's 55-0 victory last November. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)


  1. I know it does not get talked about alot, but I think we saw more improvement at corner play in 08 than any other position. Sure, the OL improved, but that was more a case of getting back to the dominating OL performance we spoiled fans expect from our Hawks. But I can still wake up in the night screaming, in memory of the Hayden years, when corners would run to the receiver, then stop so they didn’t interfere, and tackle for no gain after reception, all the way down the field!!!

    I think Fletcher was much better in 08 than Godfrey in 07, and I think 5 years from now we will be comparing corner pairs to Fletcher and Spivey in 08.

    I’m rooting for Bernstine for no better reason than my favorite memory of him was when he pushed the Gopher blocker into the Gopher punt receiver and cause a fumble. That kind of thinking has got to bring dividends over the season.

    Greenwood/Sash/Spivey were outstanding; hope they can stay healthy.

  2. Pete, I think Fletcher could be on par with Godfrey. I think an interesting point of discussion might be what kept Fletcher on the bench until pretty much his senior season? That’s a debate, albeit one in hindsight and we all know that’s picture perfect.

    I think you could be right on the Fletcher-Spievey comparison. Just a sound duo. A lot of the sacks Iowa had last season were due to coverage.

    Bernstine definitely has an edge. Technique will be the factor in that battle. Prater was a smooth-looking freshman.

  3. Too bad that bartender poured whiskey in to the smooth looking freshmans Coke…. Those darn bartenders, I want free Jack and I’ll call a cab.

    I like Jordan for pushing the goofer in to the PR as well, brilliant move by a frosh and he’s going to be good.

    These guys will be fine. The ONLY thing on this team I wonder about is the OL and Clayborn. No small worries but I don’t make $3m a year to worry THAT much.

    We’re gonna be fun to watch and we might lose a couple but they’ll all be dogfights win or lose.

  4. I think the game at Minny in 2006 where Wheelright a 6’5″ receiver owned Bradley Fletcher is what kept Fletcher on the bench. Bradley wasn’t physical enough and couldn’t make the tackle… they had to bring in Marcus Wilson….looks like Bradley got stronger and faster since then…as a CB, he is better than Godfrey…Godfrey had wheels, but not the instinct and he didn’t make that many plays…I think Fletcher will make a pretty good NFL CB. Will be interesting.

    BTW I’m not saying Godfrey is not a good player–but NFL likes him at safety, not at CB.

  5. “Potentially, Iowa will have three juniors and a sophomore in the secondary next season. So, 2009 and ‘10 are — barring injury, of course — nailed down. And with Prater, Lowe, Cato and Swanson, the two years after that, potentially, could also be booked.”

    Prater, Lowe and Cato will be gone in ’12, correct?

  6. DJD, you’re right. My bad. I had it stuck in my head that they’re freshman. They most certainly are not. Thank you! (And I mean that sincerely!)

    Yeah, Logic, Fletcher also got lit up by Hardy in ’07. Great point. Then again, did the Big Ten have that Humvee of a wideout last year?

  7. Fletcher was really bad before last year and got lit up pretty much every time he stepped on the field. I don’t know what happened, but I’m glad it did. He was phenomenal last year.

    Also, HL, I disagree with your opinion of Godfrey. He was the best corner Iowa has had in about as long as I can remember. He made a ton of plays his senior year and was probably the best defensive player we had. Also, the fact that he’s playing safety now doesn’t mean the whole NFL saw him that way, it means that the Panthers (who are extremely deep at corner) did. Plenty of teams were looking at him as a corner too. The fact that he’s been able to play safety well just speaks to his versatility. There have been lots of scouts who have talked about moving Fletcher to FS too.

  8. Whatever happened with Fletcher, he was a different player when he replaced Shada in the final four or five games of 2007. Made a ton of plays.

    Lack of killer receivers in the Big Ten last season? Is that a discussion point here? Maybe I’m missing someone.

  9. That’s actually a fair point. I can’t think of any that were all that great except maybe Decker and Benn, neither of whom are exactly All-American quality (well, Benn probably could be, but the coaches don’t know how to use him and Juice Williams kinda stinks). It’s definitely a very run-heavy conference.

  10. Forgot about Benn. He’s good, but I don’t think of him as a prototypical WR. He’s a great football player whose position is WR. (And I know Iowa fans are probably still PO’d over his postgame comments last season. Understandable.)

  11. This secondary makes my forehead tingle a little bit. If you watch games like Minnesota and Iowa State, you see excellent pass coverage in the mid-secondary, which I feel Iowa has always struggled with. Considering that Minnesota made their money on offense (not much, I’ll add) with those types of short spread out tosses. With Decker back that game, though, Iowa still dominated. Also acknowledging that Austen Arnaud is shaping into a good passer, I’m starting to believe in apparently decent athleticism, and also that Tyler Sash has great luck following him and mildly-felt ESP. I paraphrase his thoughts following the Outback Bowl: “He telegraphed his passes.” And by jov, he’s only a freshman.

  12. Decker was a shell of himself against the Hawkeyes, but yeah, Mr. K, I’m not sure health would’ve mattered. No one was open. I thought the Adam Weber that QB’d Minnesota to a surprisingly close game at Kinnick in 2007 (24 of 41 for 190, TD, INT) might’ve made a difference. He finished 14 of 28 for 127 and two INTs. He was eventually pulled.

    Here’s a link on Decker. Apparently, he’s got baseball prospects.

    After the Outback Bowl, A.J. Edds mentioned that the Sash who had two INTs in that game was a different player than the one who started the season. Hard to believe at the end of the year (he had four INTs in the last five games or something like that), but yeah, just a freshman.

  13. […] Four downs with the defensive backs. […]

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