LINEBACKER ANTHONY HITCHENS
Arrival: The 6-1, 224-pounder played some as a true freshman in 2010. Hitchens arrived from Lorain, Ohio, as a running back turned safety. So, he started learning safety. Then, the great Iowa running back implosion of 2010 happened and Hitchens soon found himself doing the running back thing. Eventually, he settled in at linebacker and even played in some nickel situations in the Insight Bowl, an opportunity that spoke highly of Hitchens, given the fact that Iowa faced Missouri and QB Blaine Gabbert and that he was a true freshman just kind of learning.
Last season, Christian Kirksey won the inside linebacker spot. Then, against Pittsburgh, Hitchens suffered a knee sprain that kept him out of five games, just when the Hawkeyes walked into an ambush of injuries at the linebacker position (James Morris and Tyler Nielsen). When he returned, he made a mark against Purdue with three tackles and a fumble recovery. Still, the injury took a big chunk of his season, leaving Hitchens one of the hungrier Hawkeyes on the team.
Takeoff 2012: Hitchens was installed as a starter at weakside linebacker going into spring and held the position throughout the 15 practices. In the spring scrimmage, he broke up a pass intended for running back Damon Bullock.
It’s Hitchens’ deal if he can show in camp that he’s a better weakside LB than sophomore Quinton Alston can, at this stage of his career, be a middle linebacker. Morris is comfortable wherever the coaches shove him. Kirksey is rooted at outside linebacker. This scenario might not be on the table, but Iowa will play the best three.
Rotation? Perhaps, but remember the core of Iowa’s defensive philosophy is built around keeping it simple. That said, don’t think first-year defensive coordinator Phil Parker will shy away from using as many personnel packages as it takes. He wants to support the defensive line this season, knowing that’s where the inexperience lies.
“Hitchens is doing very well,” Parker said this spring. “For him, he’s very explosive. We recruited him as a running back, and possible at defensive back, and he came in here and he has great athletic ability. He does have a pop, and I think he’s doing a great job.”
The boss is happy, that’s never a bad thing.