Unless something changes in camp, sophomore outside linebacker Travis Perry might be the best and most utilized Hawkeye who doesn’t have a scholarship.
Perry, 6-2, 232, has seen and will see special teams duties. He could be a key cog on coverage units this year. He also was the No. 2 outside linebacker last season, notching his first career start at Michigan. Perry had four tackles last season.
Iowa has 10 linebackers on scholarship, including three incoming freshmen. This spring, Kirk Ferentz said running back Michael Malloy will go on scholarship this fall. With punter Jonny Mullings’ departure, perhaps Perry gets rewarded this fall. He’s clearly in the plans as the likely heir to Christian Kirksey’s spot.
(And by the way, Iowa doesn’t announce when a player is put on scholarship. This is something that comes up during the season.)
I don’t want to make too big of a deal out of not being on scholarship, but I think everyone has an idea in their head on walk-ons who have shots at the free ride. This also is the time of year one or two of these go out. My top candidates are Perry and Marshall Koehn, the backup kicker, punter and probable kicker for the 2014 Hawkeyes.
Key 2012 factor: The fact that Perry got a start when WLB Anthony Hitchens wasn’t able to go against Michigan says the Urbandale native is in the plans. I’ve written a lot about the players who’ve gotten Iowa’s final scholarships, Perry was the first walk-on. Iowa’s final offers in 2011 went to RB Damon Bullock, SS John Lowdermilk and LB Marcus Collins. Perry is solidly on the depth chart, so you could argue he’s ahead of schedule.
Offseason factor: Perry is running No. 2 behind a senior starter. If he performs on special teams and, probably, in nickel/dime situations, he’ll position himself for a run at being a two-year starter at outside linebacker.
Competition: There are 10 linebackers on scholarship. Perry — again, as far as I know — is a walk-on. One thing you can’t say about the Ferentz era is that scholarship players don’t go on a pedestal. If a walk-on is better, the walk-on plays. Hello, Sean Considine, Pete McMahon, Derek Pagel and so on. (By the way, Iowa has 21 first-year walk-ons on the roster. That’s the biggest number I can remember.)
Why No. 41?: Barring injury, I don’t expect Perry to break into the starting lineup. It’s probably a close race between him and junior Quinton Alston or linebacker No. 4. This is a special teams pick. Linebackers, running backs and defensive backs are the guts of most coverage units (at Iowa, I’d also throw in WRs). Special teams will give Perry a chance to elevate himself.
Outlook: Perry has a pretty good career path in front of him. Of course, he has to show growth and there always will be challengers (John Kenny, Josey Jewell and, coming in ’14, Jameer Outsey). He seems to be doing the right things with the inherent chip on the shoulder that a lot of walk-ons (whether or not Perry has a schollie now doesn’t matter, he did begin as a walk-on) carry into their careers.
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