The position group everyone is talking about for the Iowa Hawkeyes is the defensive line. It’s young, inexperienced and, well, that’s more than enough.
The results in Saturday’s spring scrimmage were about what you expected. The tackles had some moments but were pushed back, for the most part, by a somewhat more experienced offensive line. The ends contained, but didn’t provide a lot of pressure against an Iowa offense that passed the ball 52 times.
Clearly, there’s work to do with the defensive line.
“We’re not ready to go at all, but overall, I’m really kind of pleased with the way they’re coming along,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “. . . We have the makings. We won’t be ready in August, we’re going to need every day of practice. I think when it’s all said and done, we’ll be OK.”
Saturday, fifth-year seniors Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione started. They’re fully matured bodies, but not very experienced. Freshman Darian Cooper and sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat started at tackles. They’re new, brand new.
Senior cornerback Micah Hyde has had an excellent seat to view the progress of the D-line. Here’s what he’s seen:
“They’re tough guys,” he said. “The other day, we were at practice and they’re low on numbers, really low, and I think they had five guys who were rotating in and out. There was only one guy out on each play and they were still going full speed.
“They were hurting, they were tired. Some of them said they had jammed fingers and their ankles hurt, but they were still going. That’s the mentality our defense brings. No matter who’s in or what’s going on, if you’re hurt or if we’re low, we’re going to try to push it.”
Trinca-Pasat is somewhat emblematic of this group.
The 6-3, 270-pounder played defensive end and tight end at Lane Tech in Chicago when Iowa recruited him. He also played some wide receiver, and so, with an eye toward defensive tackle, his football journey was going to be the long way around.
“You have to eat healthy, eat protien. You have to lift,” said Trinca-Pasat, who put rang up a few pressures on quarterback James Vandenberg during the spring scrimmage. “All of it eventually adds up. It’s been about two years now. It takes some time getting used to the weight, but it’s coming along.”
That statement, “It takes some time to get used to the weight,” don’t just blow by that.
When Trinca-Pasat first stepped on a scale at Iowa in January 2010, he weighed 240 pounds. When he weighed in this spring, he was up to 283. That’s nearly 45 pounds in a little more than two years.
“I never really understood that myself,” Trinca-Pasat said. “I know a lot of the older guys, like Karl [Klug] and Mike Daniels, they told me to take some time to get used to your weight.”
This isn’t as easy as you might think.
“At first, you put on the weight and you’re a little off-balance,” he said. “You might be a little slower than normal. The conditioning also takes some time, but once you reach that weight and consistently working with it, it starts to come naturally.
“It feels like I’m playing at 243 again.”
Nearly every candidate for playing time on the D-line next fall comes with some scaffolding. From those coming back from injury to underclassmen building their bodies to the point where they can contribute to true freshmen, Iowa’s D-line is a work in progress.
“Everybody’s a little bit different story,” Ferentz said. “. . . We have a lot of guys climbing the ladder.”
Bigach — He’s a senior who started six games last season, bouncing between end and tackle. He’s being counted on for leadership and will start somewhere. He played end in the spring scrimmage.
“We expected him to do well,” Ferentz said. “He’s doing a good job.”
Gaglione — His resume is a little lighter than Bigach’s, but he saw playing time last season. Also, he’s a journeyman, bouncing between tackle and end. He looks to be a starting end this season.
“He’s had a good spring, he’s been out here every day working, that’s good to see,” Ferentz said.
End Riley McMinn — As a true freshman last season, his measurements were 6-foot-7, 219 pounds. He’s up to 245 this spring. He also missed some time.
“He got off to a good start,” Ferentz said. “He had a minor injury and missed a couple of days. He’s trying to get caught up mentally. He’s not playing as fast as he’s capable of, but I think every one of those guys has made improvement.”
Cooper — “When he’s on, he’s on pretty good,” Ferentz said. “But when he has bad plays, it looks bad. That’s part of being young.”
Trinca-Pasat — “He might be the most improved guy we have up front,” Ferentz said. “He was really struggling back in December and he’s had a really good spring.”
Junior end Dominic Alvis said he will be full speed in June after an ACL tear last November. Tackle Carl Davis hasn’t played this spring after knee surgery in January. Freshmen tackles Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie are possibilities, but they’ll still only be 19 years old next fall.
By the time August comes around, this D-line will be used to the weight. Everyone is interested in how this will work.