Interceptions came in bunches last fall against Iowa State.
Strong safety Tyler Sash had three. Free safety Brett Greenwood had a pair. The Hawkeyes turned six turnovers into 21 points and ran away from the Cyclones, 35-3.
Asked coming off the field where his picks where, Iowa cornerback Amari Spievey semi-snapped, “They never threw my way!”
That’s what Iowa’s secondary will be missing going into 2010. One third of the field was Amari Spievey’s and a lot of Big Ten scouting reports avoided Amari Spievey’s third of the field. He wasn’t infallible — Indiana tried him a few times with near success (two TD passes ruled OB) — but he was respected.
Most pass attempts went down the middle of the field or funneled Shaun Prater’s way. The first-year starter had two interceptions and broke up eight passes. For the most part, he was positionally solid, but he overran plays a few times. He showed speed and, like every defensive back Phil Parker coaches, was a striker while tackling.
Iowa returns the top safety duo in the Big Ten in Sash and Greenwood.
Sash led the conference with six interceptions. He also was third on the team with 85 tackles. He broke up six passes, had 5.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles. He’s playing the strong safety position as well as anyone has during Kirk Ferentz’s 11-plus seasons. You have to go back to Bob Sanders’ in-freaking-credible sophomore season in 2001 (122 tackles, four interceptions, 12 pass breakups, six tackles for loss) for a better effort. Sanders might have physicality over Sash (Sash is at 138 tackles in two years; Sanders had 174), but Sash, a junior, already has shown a better nose for the ball with 11 career interceptions to Sanders’ seven.
Greenwood finished the season with three interceptions, seven pass breakups and 55 tackles. His tackles were down a little from last season, but he also missed two games with a sprained neck. The senior has seven career interceptions. He earned second-team all-Big Ten from league media. He’ll be in his third full season of making the calls for Iowa’s secondary.
Sash and Greenwood play physical football and both were pretty beaten up at the end of the season. This coupled with the fact that Iowa lost backup strong safety David Cato to transfer puts reserves Jack Swanson, Nick Nielsen and Jason White on the radar.
Iowa doesn’t have a Spievey on the roster, so right corner is a race between junior Jordan Bernstine, sophomore Micah Hyde, junior Willie Lowe and sophomore Greg Castillo. If the Orange Bowl was any indication, Hyde seems to have an upper hand. He entered the game opposite Spievey when Prater left for a few series with an injured ankle.
But Bernstine is very much in this. The right corner might’ve been his until he suffered a broken ankle early in fall camp last August. He was running well and in full practice in December and January.
There will be some guesses here as to who plays which safety. I admit, I’m not entirely sure. Also, there weren’t a lot of corners on the Orange Bowl roster.
The secondary should be a strength.
Shaun Prater (jr.) — His offseason got off to a rocky start (an OWI) arrest, but he seemed to get it after that. After
serving a two-game suspension, the 5-11, 175-pounder started 10 games. He missed Arkansas State after suffering a knee injury during the week. Barring any offseason craziness, Prater is one of the starting corners in ’10.
Willie Lowe (jr.) — The 5-10, 170-pounder earned some solid PT in dime situations last season. This isn’t his first shot at a starting job. He was in the competition after Bernstine was hurt last fall. Finished the season with two breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. With an injury, Lowe could be “next man in” at either corner.
Greg Castillo (so.) — He got the start against UNI, but a groin injury took him out of the next three games and sort of threw his season into a tailspin. He only played in three more games and didn’t see a whole lot of time on special teams. At some point, the 5-11, 180-pounder was deemed good enough to start by coaches, so you know there’s something here. This season, Castillo should see expanded special teams and nickle and dime packages.
Jordan Bernstine (jr.) – His 2009 ended with a broken ankle in fall camp. He would’ve had his second shot at earning a starting role in Iowa’s secondary. In 2008, the 5-11, 205-pounder lost out to Spievey. He has the best size of the players in this race and the most experience in Iowa’s defense. He had great measureables coming out of Des Moine Lincoln (a 4.3ish 40). Will the ankle injury take away from his speed and mobility? Probably not. By the time it matters, it will have had an entire year to heal. This won’t be handed to him, but either way, he’s an important player next season.
Micah Hyde (so.) – He earned quite a bit of PT early in the season, but it seemed to tail off. He was a special teamer
all season and saw time in dime packages. What makes you think he’s in the plans solidly in 2010 was the Orange Bowl appearance. It was a handful of plays, but it also said he was the third corner at the end of last season. This is the Iowa football program. How you finish matters. He’s in the plans, even if he doesn’t win a starter’s spot. Whoever doesn’t win the start at right corner could be heavily in the mix at free safety, setting up a possible starting role in 2011.
B.J. Lowery (fr.) – The incoming freshman from Cincinnati Hughes played all over the field as a prep, including quarterback, cornerback and free safety. In high school, he was the type of athlete coaches wanted handling the ball and making plays. The 5-11, 175-pounder had an offer from Akron, but picked the Hawkeyes. The last time Iowa beat Akron for a cornerback it was Jovon Johnson who finished with 17 career interceptions.
Tyler Sash (jr.) — He’ll assume his third season as a starter. He’s on pace to threaten the Iowa’s career interception mark of 18, held by Devon Mitchell and Nile Kinnick. As is the case just about everywhere in college football, a long-standing starter affects the depth chart. Junior-to-be David Cato announced his transfer just before the spring semester started at Iowa. It’s a blow to the depth chart. Cato was a player a team needs — he was effective on goal line and special teams – but he obviously wasn’t happy with his PT and there he went.
Jason White (so.) — This is one of my guesses. I’m not sure if the 5-10, 205-pounder is a safety or a corner. He switched to defensive back from running back before last season. As a walk-on freshman, White saw a lot of special teams duty, picking up five tackles. The fact he saw special teams as a walk-on freshman is a great sign. He doesn’t have optimum size for a safety, but neither did Bob Sanders.
Justin Greiner (sr.) — A 5-10, 185-pound walk-on from Washington. I’m not sure if he’s a strong safety or not. This might be a season where he sees some special teams.
Collin Sleeper (so.) — A former Solon prep with great dimensions at 6-2, 200. Again, guessing on the strong safety part of this, but he has safety possibilities with his size.
Don Shumpert (fr.) — With Anthony Hitchen’s commitment last weekend (see below), Iowa now has a nice safety
duo in the 2010 class. The 6-2, 185-pounder is another player from the strong pipeline that Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson has built to St. Louis, which has included DE Adrian Clayborn and WR Marvin McNutt. I’m putting Shumpert at SS, but his position will probably play to a compare/contrast with Hitchens. Shumpert was named all-Suburban North on offense and defense.
Brett Greenwood (sr.) – The 6-0, 200-pounder steps into his fourth season as a starter (32 games). Does any other Hawkeye get more out of their body than Greenwood? The 200 might be pushing it, but he still fearlessly throws his body around the field at top speed. He suffered the sprained neck against Michigan State and tried to come back the next week against Indiana. He was battered at the end of the season, but made it back for the final three games. Iowa doesn’t rotate much at safety, either. Expect Greenwood to see another 800 or so plays next season, but it might be time to find some time for the heir apparent, whomever that ends up being.
Jack Swanson (so.) — He spent his redshirt season putting on some critical weight. Last year, the 5-11, 195-pounder became a legit special teamer. He’s on the career trajectory of “the guy who’ll replace Greenwood.” This season, that should mean some time in some sort of coverage package. Iowa mostly uses linebackers and corners in nickel and dime, though. The Greenwood replacement isn’t an automatic. There is competition.
Nick Nielsen (so.) — Last spring, the 6-3, 205-pound walk-on got some notice from defensive coordinator Norm Parker. He played two games on special teams and didn’t record a tackle. He should see an expanded role on special teams. Will that grow into a legit shot at free safety in 2011?
Ryan Edwards (fr.) – The 6-2, 190-pounder spent last season redshirting. He did everything for Waterloo West High School his senior season, playing QB, DB and kicker. He also had baseball possibilities. Great athlete. It’s going to take some sweat equity in an anonymous setting, but Edwards has some real skills.
Tom Donatell (jr.) — Switched from QB a few years ago. I mistakenly listed him as an LB in an earlier post. The Orange Bowl media guide has him as a DB. The 6-2, 205-pound walk-on hasn’t seen a big break in playing time, either on defense or special teams, which is probably his best chance to get noticed. Again, a walk-on who’s been around. Great to have on the team.
Anthony Hitchens (fr.) — The 6-1, 195-pounder played mostly running back at Clearview High School (Lorain, Ohio), but will make the switch to free safety when he enrolls at Iowa. He also had offers from Indiana and Kansas. He rushed for 1,400 yards with 21 TDs last season. On defense, he had 76 tackles and two interceptions. He’s commit No. 20 for the Hawkeyes.