IOWA CITY — Iowa’s defensive line this season will be a work in progress. First-year defensive coordinator Phil Parker knows that group will need some support.
He talked this week about playing press coverage and moving a safety or safeties near the line of scrimmage. He also talked about the possibility of blitzes, depending on down and distance.
Iowa’s defense didn’t blitz a lot under Norm Parker in his 13 seasons as defensive coordinator. He always said he’d happily take that gamble with someone else’s money. The saying “Rob Peter to pay Paul” also showed up on a T-shirt he players made up with Norm Parker sayings before the 2006 Outback Bowl. Iowa did blitz, but it didn’t do it a lot under Norm Parker.
It’ll probably go the same way with Phil Parker. No relation to Norm, but the 48-year-old carries a similar philosophy.
“Yeah, sometimes you have to [blitz], but, yeah,” said Phil Parker, while talking about elements that could help a D-line that will be young, “we need to help them out. We need to move them. They can’t always be sitting targets. That’s what we’ve tried to do in the past.”
Once again, with all the coaching changes Iowa went through this offseason, you can’t make a blanket statement on what Iowa will or will not be on defense. But if the mission statement that head coach Kirk Ferentz made at the beginning of spring — essentially, Iowa will do what its players do best — carries over to the defense, perhaps it will be more flexible. Or maybe more aggressively flexible.
Given the situation, the down and distance, the score and all of that, of course.
“I think you always have to figure out a way to put your best players on the field if it happens to be in certain situations,” Phil Parker said Wednesday. “If you have to put a nickel guy in and an extra defensive back in situations, then you do so. But you want to make sure you have your best 11 guys on the field who are going to help you win, so that’s where we’re trying to look at it, too.
“Obviously, offensively they can create it and make decisions on what they do, but it’s the same thing on defense. We’re going to look for the best guys that can help us play. If it means we add another secondary guy, then we’ll add another secondary guy.”
Parker already has said Iowa will remain in a 4-3 defense. He said Wednesday that he plans to stick with the two-gap technique on the defensive line, which might trigger more blitzes.
“I think that’s the way we’ve usually been built is to play a little heavier on the up front,” Parker said. “We will add guys to the box a little bit, whether it’s a secondary guy or bring a little bit more blitz, but we’re going to make sure we help those guys out up front.”
Going into Saturday’s spring scrimmage the starters are senior Steve Bigach and freshman Darian Cooper at tackle and senior Joe Gaglione and freshman Riley McMinn at end. Bigach owns all six career starts that the group has.
“With the experience we have in the back seven, we’re going to have to be the leaders to help those guys out and change a few things to complement that,” junior free safety Tanner Miller said.
Linebacker Anthony Hitchens is completely on board with the idea of blitzing. All linebackers are completely on board with the idea of blitzing.
“It makes me more aggressive, actually, and I like that,” said Hitchens, a junior and potential first-year starter. “A little more man [coverage], a little more blitzing, I think so far we’ve been picking up on it.
“As a linebacker you always like to blitz. That’s the best part about playing linebacker. It should help us and keep the offense guessing.”
The defensive line will receive an immediate boost when junior end Dominic Alvis and sophomore tackle Carl Davis return from knee injuries. Alvis suffered a torn ACL against Michigan last November. He said he’ll be full speed by June. Davis had knee surgery in January and also should return in June. They haven’t participated this spring.
Alvis offered some observations on the D-line.
“I think Joe Gaglione has really developed since last fall,” said Alvis, who had 3.5 tackles for loss in nine games last season. “I think Bud Spears [a redshirt freshman defensive end] and Cooper. They’ve done a really great job stepping into their roles.”
Last week, first-year D-line coach Reese Morgan mentioned the possibility of rotating eight D-linemen into games. Right now, those eight look to be Bigach, Cooper, Gaglione, Alvis, McMinn, Spears, tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat and, maybe, one of two true freshmen, Jaleel Johnson or Faith Ekakitie.
It’ll be a group that needs a little help. If that’s a safety near the line of scrimmage or a run blitz, those could happen. This, more than a different Parker in the coordinator chair, will drive how Iowa looks on defense in 2012.
“It might be a little bit different, but our goal is to make sure we keep them from scoring,” Phil Parker said. “So, hopefully we look back and play pretty good defense. We don’t want to go too far from being good.”