IOWA CITY — Quinton Alston grew up in Sicklerville, N.J., just like Shonn Greene.
Alston, a current Iowa linebacker, recognized Greene from his accomplishments with the New York Jets. Alston was unaware of Greene’s collegiate career and his accolades as an All-American Iowa running back. Alston quickly found out when he arrived on campus last year.
“A couple of times, a couple of times,” Alston said when asked how often people at Iowa have connected him with Greene. “When I made my decision to come to Iowa, that’s when I found out what Shonn Greene was all about. I didn’t really know that he was from (Iowa).”
Alston, a 6-foot-1, 224-pound middle linebacker, hopes to make a name for himself the way Greene did at Iowa in 2008. Alston, a true sophomore, is a long way from any legitimate on-field comparisons with Greene or any other Sicklerville players in college or the pros. Alston was the perfect candidate for a red-shirt last year with a youthful corps of linebackers. But when backup middle linebacker Bruce Davis quit the team in mid-September, Alston was thrust into action in Iowa’s 45-17 win against Louisiana-Monroe.
Alston admits he wasn’t comfortable playing defense last year. It was a challenge for him to keep up with the offensive movements, and he struggled at times to grasp the scheme.
“When I was red-shirted for those couple of weeks, I wished that I would have kept it, just so I could learn all the little details of the defense,” Alston said. “But I’ve been an experienced learner. So just getting in the game and getting that experience down pat in that first season. I think I got the nerves out and everything.”
“I think next season will be a lot better for me, and I have a grasp on the scheme a lot better than I did last season. It’s helped me out a lot.”
Alston said he’s most comfortable in run situations.
“In high school we didn’t play a lot of passing teams,” Alston said. “It was pretty much all run defense and stuff like that. That was pretty much my expertise coming out of high school. Now, Big Ten, big-time football, they’re not going to run the ball all the time. Coach (LeVar) Woods and Coach (Darrell) Wilson, they helped me out a lot with getting my pass drops and pass coverage and understand the playbook. So that’s helped.”
Alston is designated specifically as a middle linebacker and won’t move to the team’s other two positions. He’s listed as the squad’s No. 2 behind junior James Morris, who combined for 12 starts at both middle and weakside linebackers last year. Junior Christian Kirksey started 13 games last year and is set at outside linebacker. Junior Anthony Hitchens is slated as the starter at the weakside linebacker.
But if Alston is one of the team’s three best linebackers, he’ll start.
“If (Alston) would be one of the best three, we’d probably move James Morris,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
“The three best linebackers start, regardless of position,” said Woods, who took over as linebackers coach and Wilson went to the secondary. “The thing about our room is there are guys that have the flexibility of moving positions.
“Morris and Kirksey have a grasp of the system. They’ve all played different positions. Right away, they have more flexibility because they’ve done it in a game. They have experience doing it.”
But there are other players vying for time, too. With Morris out of practice with a hand injury last Saturday, Kirksey moved to middle linebacker and freshman Travis Perry played at first-team outside linebacker. Alston worked primarily as the second-team middle linebacker flanked by Perry, freshman Cole Fisher and and at times sophomore Marcus Collins.
“I’m just going to keep on working so whatever happens at the end of camp, that’s going to be the lineup,” Alston said.
A CLOSER LOOK AT IOWA’S LINEBACKERS
The depth chart
No. 1 — OLB: Christian Kirksey, jr., 6-2, 220; MLB: James Morris, jr., 6-2, 230; WLB: Anthony Hitchens, jr., 6-1, 224. No. 2 — OLB: Travis Perry, #fr., 6-3, 230; MLB: Quinton Alston, so., 6-1, 224; WLB: Cole Fisher, #fr., 6-2, 218. The rest: Marcus Collins, so., 6-0, 215; Marcon Plewa, #fr., 6-2, 225; Palmer Foster, so., 6-3, 210; Jeremy Nelson, fr., 6-3, 230; Jim Poggi, so., 6-2, 218; Dalton Shaull, fr., 6-1, 205; Laron Taylor, fr., 6-0, 215. #red-shirt freshman
James Morris and Christian Kirksey one day might command the same respect among Iowans as Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge. Like Greenway, Morris was a small-town high school superstar, growing up in nearby Solon. Like Hodge, Kirksey hails from a major metro area out of the region. On the field, Morris (who missed one game with an injured ankle) and Kirksey each totaled 110 tackles last year ranking fifth and seventh, respectively, in Big Ten tackles per game. As juniors, both are entrenched and could develop into one of the league’s best tandems. “I’m bigger, stronger, faster,” Morris said. “I feel like I know a lot more about football. I just feel all-around that I’ve improved.” Anthony Hitchens, who came to Iowa as a safety, played in eight games last year and is the likely third starter.
The No. 2(s)
Urbandale’s Travis Perry was a first-team all-state defensive back in 2010 and walked on at Iowa a year ago. He since has bulked up by 15 pounds and weighs 230 pounds. He’s also rapidly moving up the depth chart as the first sub off the bench. In Saturday’s scrimmage, Perry capably filled in for Christian Kirksey, who slid over to middle linebacker for a dinged-up James Morris. “Travis has had a really great camp so far,” Morris said. “He’s had several turnovers throughout the practices. He had an amazing interception … a diving interception.” Sophomore Marcus Collins played a heavy dose of special teams last year. He’s also working with the second-team unit. “Marcus is doing a good job,” Morris said. “He’s a guy that’s going to have a chance to play a lot this fall. We need big things from him.”
The Noobs (and others)
Laron Taylor was Iowa’s only linebacker signed in the 2012 class. He’s got decent size (6-0, 215) and was a three-year starter (and two-year captain) at Detroit’s vaunted Cass Tech. He led the team to a state title last year. He could see time on special teams and has worked on both the second and third defenses. … Red-shirt freshman Cole Fisher had impressed as second-team defenders during camp. Fisher’s older brother, Sean, plays for Nebraska. “(Cole is) fast, he can be explosive and we can continue to build on those strengths and work on the weaknesses,” linebackers coach LeVar Woods said. Fisher earned four varsity football letters as a safety and running back at Omaha’s Millard North, the same school that produced former Hawkeyes and current NFL players Jeff Tarpinian and Seth Olsen.
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