IOWA CITY — Iowa’s defensive backfield is filled with fluidity, from the players’ athletic ability to the assigned positions in which they play.
At Saturday’s Kids Day at Kinnick Stadium, only senior cornerback Shaun Prater lined up in the same spot as last year. Micah Hyde, who started 13 games at cornerback, now is the free safety. Greg Castillo (cornerback) and Collin Sleeper (strong safety) take first-team reps, but the situation hardly is settled, Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
“That whole picture back there,” Ferentz said, “we will let that go for a while.”
Hyde, a junior, shifted from cornerback before spring practice. He’s shown a propensity toward making plays, such as his 72-yard interception touchdown return in the Insight Bowl to lift Iowa past Missouri. That’s part of the rationale for moving Hyde to a position where he could make a play on the ball more often.
But the move initially caught Hyde off guard.
“It was a surprise to me,” Hyde said. “I had no idea it was happening, and Coach (Kirk Ferentz) came in and told me.
“Honestly, it was probably two days, a day before spring ball. That’s the first time I heard about it. … I’ve been fair about it; I didn’t expect it to come. It’s cool, I’m fine with it.”
There’s a chance Hyde could move back to cornerback by the end of fall camp, Ferentz said. Hyde’s final position depends heavily on the competition between Castillo, a junior, and sophomore B.J. Lowery.
The two are different types of cornerbacks: Castillo is more of a technician, while Lowery has natural athletic ability. If either can play like a starter, Hyde will stay at safety.
“I think Castillo’s very smart. Hard worker,” Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker said. “Lowery has some natural quickness and ability. He’s a young kid. You just sort of tap the gold mine in Lowery. But he’s got a lot of potential. I think they’ve both got their pluses.”
Castillo is the son of Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo and spent a few days at Eagles’ camp watching some of the NFL’s best cornerbacks in Nnamdi Asumugha and Asante Samuel before returning to Iowa City.
“I’ve actually got good footwork, I can say,” Castillo said. “Footwork is kind of what I’ve always strived on. I may not be the fastest or be the most athletic, I can’t really jump high, but my technique makes up for all that.”
The competition at strong safety is fierce. Sleeper, a junior, worked with the first team. Senior Jordan Bernstine, a converted cornerback, was the team’s primary nickel back and second-team strong safety on Saturday. Ferentz, however, wasn’t ready to concede the position to Sleeper just yet.
“I will reserve judgment on that because there are so many moving parts in the secondary,” Ferentz said. “Bernstine has had his best set of practices. There is good competition there, the corners are competing, too.”
All of the players concede they’ll miss former free safety Brett Greenwood, who was undrafted but signed a free-agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hyde said Greenwood, a four-year starter, was “the smartest player I ever played with.” But Prater complimented Hyde for his work ethic in making the transition and has picked up the defensive calls over the last five months.
“Coming from the spring when we had the scrimmage until now, Micah has gotten really comfortable with making the calls,” Prater said. “As far as him making plays, he’s still the same.”
Several other players figure heavily in the mix. Sophomore Tanner Miller lined up at second-team free safety but was slated as first team before Hyde shifted. True freshman Torry Campbell was working as a second-team cornerback, as was junior Gavin Smith. So it all remains fluid.
“I’m a competitor, and I think a lot of people on our team are like that,” Hyde said. “Wherever our coach puts us, we want to make plays.”
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