IOWA CITY -- Dominic Alvis began his Iowa football career as a bit of an outsider.
In 2009, the 6-foot-4, 265-pounder agreed to a "grayshirt" scholarship. He would've had to pay his own way and not contribute to the football team for the fall, per NCAA grayshirt rules. Then, someone got hurt in the spring of '09 and Alvis was awarded a full scholarship.
Alvis is another "project" defensive lineman for the Hawkeyes. He started around 225 pounds his freshman season. He finally dented the lineup last fall as a redshirt sophomore. After initially starting as a tackle, he moved to end and made an immediate impact.
On the first series against Pittsburgh, Alvis had a sack and caused a fumble. He went on to record 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks before he suffered a torn ACL on punt coverage against Michigan on Nov. 5.
Now, he's working his way back to the inside of the game. He didn't participate in Iowa's spring scrimmage. The Hawkeyes end spring practice this week.
"I'm coming along with my recovery and I expect to be full speed by June," Alvis said.
Yes, of course, it's been frustrating. Iowa's defensive line is under the gun going into 2012. It's a young group that could end up counting on as many as five redshirt and true freshmen. Alvis is a fully grown junior, so sitting on the sidelines grinds him.
"It's one of the things I wish I could be doing right now, being out there and being a leader by example, working on things I need to work on," Alvis said. "It's killing me right now, but it's one of those things I need to do. I need to heal, so I can do all these things next fall."
Alvis hasn't been locked in the training room working on the knee. He's participated in weightroom workouts and said his body has changed -- again. He's put on at least 10 pounds of muscle.
"I've been handling this offseason well and taking advantage of it," he said. "I'm actually becoming a better athlete. I've been able to do more things in the weightroom with this time off. I'm becoming a better-rounded athlete."
Does this bring the possibility of playing tackle again?
"I don't know, I wouldn't be opposed to working at tackle or end," he said. "I'm bigger now and I feel as though I could do either.
"I had been practicing at end pretty much my whole career here except for that short, little stint where I was at tackle, so it was a comfort issue, more instinct."
Iowa more likely needs Alvis at defensive end. During last week's spring scrimmage, seniors Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione started at end. Bigach was listed as a tackle at the beginning of spring. That's probably where first-year D-line coach Reese Morgan would like to see him, but he's probably in no hurry to pigeonhole anyone.
Gaglione has made strides and looks ready to start. In the scrimmage, he showed some bull rush potential on pass rush and held contain. Alvis' return would give Iowa three upperclassmen to work with. That would help Iowa gap the body maturity that some of the freshmen would face going against 22- and 23-year-olds in the Big Ten.
"Just with coach Morgan and the experience he has, which isn't a lot, but he knows how to beat an offensive lineman from coaching the offensive line and knowing their weaknesses and strengths," Alvis said. "A lot of the stuff we're learning is new stuff to us. We're able to approach being on the defensive line a new way. We're more efficient. As an overall unit, we might be better in the technical aspect."
This will be Reese Morgan's first season as Iowa's defensive line coach after nine as the offensive line coach. It's an unorthodox move, to be sure, but Alvis sees the logic.
"Just sitting down with coach Morgan, a man who's been with the offense for nine years," he said, "we've been able to sit together and pick apart what the offense does and the tendencies. You really learn more, conceptually, the game of football. It's a game of chess. It's great to have coach Morgan as a resource to be able to do that."
Alvis has spent the spring alongside fellow defensive lineman Carl Davis, a 6-5, 310-pound tackle who had knee surgery in January. Davis spent last season on the perimeter of real playing time. At some point, he injured a knee and that held him back. If the sophomore excels at one of the tackle spots, that could shift the expectations for Iowa's D-line.
"He has a great attitude and wants to show what he's got next fall," Alvis said. Is he ready to take the next step? "He is. He's matured, I've matured. We both realize next fall we leadership roles we need to fill."
Alvis' view this spring has been from the perimeter. The one constant that he's drawn to is the energy along the D-line.
"We're going to have a lot more enthusiasm. We're bring it," Alvis said. "Just because we're inexperienced doesn't mean we can't be a dominating force.
"I've seen that energy. It's exciting. As a defense we've lost a lot of veteran guys, there's kind of a question, who's going to step into those shoes. That energy and that enthusiasm, when you see that, you think these guys are ready. Maybe they're not veterans, but they can scrap. It's one of those things."