IOWA CITY — Three months of thinking can led to a few crazy thoughts.
The last time you saw the Hawkeyes, they hoisted the Insight Bowl trophy with a 27-24 victory over No. 12 Missouri. The road to that win wound around Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert and his monster, record numbers.
Gabbert, a lock first-round pick in next month’s NFL draft, completed 41 of 57 for 434 yards, all Missouri bowl records. He threw one TD and was intercepted twice, including Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde’s interception and 72-yard return for the winning points in the fourth quarter.
Iowa allowed a ton of yards, but not a ton of points. That’s how defensive coordinator Norm Parker has called it for 12 seasons.
He pressed a million buttons in the game, too.
Iowa ran nickel and dime packages. It changed from its regular 4-3 to a 3-4 on a few third downs. Freshman Anthony Hitchens was in on dime defense. He was a true freshman seeing his first snaps on defense.
Hey, that 3-4 looked pretty good. Maybe Iowa should use that more often or maybe all the time?
“No, we’re not planning on that,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “To play a 3-4, it’s one thing to do it in passing downs. If you’re going to do it every down . . . I guess you could say Carl Davis fits that mold . . . usually you have one of the guys that’s bigger than a door.
“We’re just not built that way. That’s a whole change of philosophy. That would be a big change for us.”
The “bigger than the door” comment refers to the monster noseguard most if not all 3-4 defenses use. The best examples might come out of the NFL, where behemoths like the Packers B.J. Raji and the Steelers Casey Hampton clog up the middle while linebackers read and make plays.
Iowa hasn’t trafficked in the “bigger than a door” defensive tackles. Colin Cole was 300-plus, but Iowa choose instead to build its defensive philosophy on players it could get. That said, redshirt freshman Carl Davis is 6-5, 310.
Also, senior linebacker Jeff Tarpinian returned for the Insight Bowl after sitting most of the final eight weeks of the season with a stinger. Linebackers coach Darrell Wilson pieced it together all season in ’10.
Iowa pulled out all the stops in the bowl game — using 3-4 and dime packages liberally in the second half — and it kept the Tigers from scoring the points that would’ve matched their yardage.
“We were using what we had,” Ferentz said. “We had some guys injured, too. Losing Tarp affected us last year. Then when we lost Tyler, there’s two guys we were counting on to be pretty good players. So, that really kind of stretched us to do a lot of things.”
Against the pass, expect Iowa to work in some 3-4 on passing downs, especially if that passer is Gabbert’s caliber. Iowa will continue to rush four or more (but mostly four) probably 90 percent of the time, so we’re not talking wholesale philosophy change, just a tweak that would put more speed on the field.
Ferentz said Iowa is looking for speed. He discussed the need for speed at both outside linebacker spots.
“All that has changed a little bit with offenses right now,” Ferentz said. “It’s really kind of like both outside guys [strongside and weakside linebackers] have to be able to play out in space because of what we see for the most part, not every week, but for the most part.
“That position [strongside (outside) linebacker] has evolved a little bit, but I think if you look at our roster right now, Tyler [Nielsen], [Christian] Kirksey and Dakota Getz are best suited for the Leo position, where as the other position is a little bit more of a mixed bag, if you will.”
Iowa’s spring depth chart has Nielsen returning to his spot at outside linebacker, where he started until suffering a broken vertebrae in week 8. Kirksey and Hitchens are listed as c0-starters at weakside. Kirksey also is Nielsen’s backup.
Kirksey is listed at 6-2, 215. He played on kick coverage last season, so coaches have seen that he can run.
Sophomore James Morris is listed as the No. 1 middle linebacker, where Iowa also has senior Bruce Davis, who’s returning from a torn ACL.
“I think James Morris probably could handle any one of those three positions, where as Bruce Davis is more of an inside player, more of a middle linebacker type guy,” Ferentz said. “Long story short, we’re going to look at the guys in different positions, combinations, just see how things materialize as we go along.”
It’s too early for any rash calls for a 3-4, even though on paper, it might make sense. D-line coach Rick Kaczenski needs to find a tackle and end, with Thomas Nardo and Lebron Daniel getting first cracks at those spots this spring.
If Iowa has more quality linebackers and defensive backs than D-linemen, maybe more 3-4 in passing situations makes sense. Then again, it is the first week of spring practice.
“We’re eager to see these guys after 15 practices,” Ferentz said. “I think we’ll be OK. We’re keeping an open mind right now.”