Morgan the builder faces a mighty project

61-year-old has welcomed the challenge of coaching D-line

Marc Morehouse
Published: April 10 2012 | 5:07 pm - Updated: 3 April 2014 | 4:28 pm in
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IOWA CITY -- Out of sheer habit, Reese Morgan probably has walked into the wrong meeting room or found himself taking a few steps toward the offense's huddle.

For nine seasons, Morgan, 61, coached Iowa's offensive line. Then, in February, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz asked Morgan to move over to defensive line. He subsequently hired Brian Ferentz for the O-line. Sure, it was jarring for Morgan, but he's coached football since 1973 and he wanted to coach football for at least a few years longer at the University of Iowa.

So yeah, he made the move.

"How did he sell it to me? He just asked me if Id be interested in doing it, and I said, sure," Morgan said. "I think he knew the answer before he asked."

". . .Ill tell you, coach has a plan for everything. As you well know, hes a tremendous coach. When he presented this opportunity and challenge, I was excited about it. I was a little bit shocked at first thinking, oh wow."

It should be noted, Morgan wore a wide grin during this entire line of questions. The man is bursting with enthusiasm and is legitimately tickled at this "challenge." Even former Hawkeyes D-linemen now in the NFL have been afraid to walk past his office, knowing Morgan is going to pounce.

It's a whiplash of a change for Iowa's D-line as far as their position coach's style goes. You had to bury your ego in Iowa County before practice, but Rick Kaczenski was a fiery and effective D-line coach, polishing future pros like Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Adrian Clayborn, Karl Klug and Christian Ballard. He went to Nebraska in December, which still rankles some of the Iowa fan base.

During the introduction of Iowa's reshuffled coaching staff, Kirk and Brian Ferentz have mentioned that Morgan is a "builder" and that's what was needed at a position group that began spring practice with three redshirt freshmen listed as starters.

Brian Ferentz, "I think it's important that you're able to relate to your players, and I'd start by saying that nobody was better at that than Reese Morgan, and that's why he's going to be so tremendous with the defensive line. I think, not to get off subject, but our defensive line needs encouragement and they need to be built up and I think there's nobody better for that than coach Morgan. I think he's going to do a great job with them."

A few weeks earlier, Kirk Ferentz on the same topic,Reese is a builder. Hes a guy who builds up players, helps them develop in a positive way. Weve got our work cut out there.

But let's just flash forward into the business at hand. Iowa's D-line is the universal hot spot.

Now, the two deeps include just two redshirt freshman in tackle Darian Cooper and end Riley McMinn. Redshirt freshman Dean Tsopanides went from No. 1 end to No. 2 tackle. He was replaced by senior Joe Gaglione (6-4, 264).

Junior Dominic Alvis is the returning sack leader with just 1.5 and he's coming back from a torn ACL suffered in November last year. Sophomore tackle Carl Davis is recovering from a January knee surgery. Incoming freshmen Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie could help, but they won't set foot on campus until June or July.

Morgan talked about some of the players who'll be in the fire at the hot spot.

Sophomore tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat (a tackle who came to Iowa in the 250-pound range and who never played D-line): "I think a guy that to me has really bought into it, is really trying hard, been on the scout team and has grown a lot is Louis Trinca-Pasat." (Trinca-Pasat is listed at 270 this spring.)

Senior tackle Steve Bigach (a bit of a journeyman who started six games last fall between tackle and end): "Steve Bigach, leader of the group. Steve has been on the field and played. Hes respected by the players because of his knowledge and because hes such a hard worker. He cares about the other guys. Hes trying to help them out a little bit."

Redshirt freshman tackle Darian Cooper (played well in camp last fall, but kept the redshirt on with the idea that he'd be ready to play in '12): "From a young standpoint, Darian Cooper. I think is going to be an excellent player. He has some natural tools. But hes very, very raw, very young, learning the system, just like his attitude."

Redshirt freshman end Riley McMinn (came in listed at 6-7, 219 pounds; he's still 6-7, but now he's up to 245): "I think hes got a big upside. Riley is very raw. Not there physically. Hes a 240-some-pound freshman going against guys who are a little older and bigger. . . . He is a guy physically youd like to have [strength and conditioning coordinator] Chris Doyle spend some more time with him. Hes going to have to be ready to go, ready to play, as are all the guys."

Sophomore end Mike Hardy (listed No. 2 behind McMinn this spring): "Weve been pleased with his progress."

Redshirt freshman end Melvin Spears (moved from linebacker his freshman season): "He's has gotten better each and every day. Hes a guy you feel pretty good about."

Incoming freshmen Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie(presumably both will play tackle): "Certainly those two young men would have physical ability to do that [play as true freshmen], possibly. It remains to be seen, it really does. Well have to see how things go in August. If they happen to be here training in August, we'll see how they progress.

"Its the physical part, the mental part, then the toughness part. Football is a tough game. Thank goodness not always the most talented guys are the guys who play. Its the guys who are the most productive."

Sophomore tackle Carl Davis (he's big, 6-5 and 310, but injuries held him back last season and to an unknown extent of this spring): "The expectations for him will be extremely high because hes played. He is a young guy, but Im impressed with his knowledge of the defense and the fundamentals."

Senior tackle Casey McMillan (moved from O-line this spring): "Hes going to be a senior. Hopefully he can have a role in some way, shape or form."

I threw in a question on what Iowa will ask D-linemen to do under first-year coordinator Phil Parker. Iowa D-linemen have traditionally played two-gap technique (occupy O-linemen, read the running back and shed the OL).

"I think there will be a lot of similarities [to the two gap Iowa has played]," Morgan said. "I think theres going to be some things that Phil is going to try to do to help in certain areas. Hell have some changes and tweaks.

"Its still going to be fundamentally very similar. There are going to be times where guys are going to have to have a two-gap mark and bow up in there. When they do that, theres certain techniques we have to do a good job of teaching to allow a guy to have success with that. When you have a young freshmen, its two-gap. When you get double-teamed, its 600 pounds."

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