Lots of change swirled around the linebacker spot this offseason.
Linebacker coach LeVar Woods is still a linebackers coach. He oversees the outside linebackers and will take a chunk of special teams duties this fall. Jim Reid was hired to coach the inside linebackers after he was fired at Virginia last season, when he guided the Cavaliers to No. 28 nationally in total defense.
If probably won’t help Quinton Alston, 6-1, 232-pound junior, unseat senior James Morris at middle linebacker, but there are new eyes on the position. This creates some possibilities (and it certainly creates positioning for ’14, when Iowa will have three new starters at linebacker).
Key 2012 factor: Alston logged one start in 2012. It came against at Michigan, a 42-17 loss in which the Hawkeyes simply entered the stadium and laid their heads on the chopping block. Alston started for Morris, who was injured. Morris replaced Alston in the first half. You wonder where that put Alston coming into 2013. This spring, he remained the backup middle linebacker, but did take some snaps with the first group.
Offseason factor: Alston is up eight pounds, from 224 to 232, from last season. He also earned some attention from coaches.
“One thing for Quinton, he’s been sort of sitting waiting in the wings a little bit the whole time,” Woods said. “The thing that’s been good about him, when he gets in, there’s not much of a dropoff, or at least that’s what’s in his mind, that there shouldn’t be a dropoff playing behind James like he did last year.
“I’m excited about him mashing ‑‑ I use the term mash the gas, keep the pedal down, keep going forward and learn as much as you can — because it could be a broken shoelace and he’s in, if he doesn’t unseat . . . if he doesn’t actually win the spot here in spring.”
I don’t buy the “unseat” part. If there’s any possibility of that, it’d be Alston outperforming weakside linebacker Anthony Hitchens and then Alston moving into the middle and Morris sliding to the weakside. That’s an “if” and nothing more than a possibility, a remote one at that.
Senior starters are senior starters.
One small note: Alston was voted to the team leadership group in 2012. He isn’t on it this season.
Competition: None, really. If injuries mounted, I suspect the staff would shuffle the seniors to maximize experience. Alston is the No. 3 inside linebacker (sophomore Travis Perry is the No. 2 outside LB). If it came down to it, Marcus Collins and Laron Taylor probably could play middle linebacker, but really, there’s no real competition, which is sort of the by-product of having three linebackers who combine for 65 career starts. That’s more than the five OL starters combined (32).
Why No. 36?: With Woods grabbing a chunk of special teams coaching duties, you can bet that linebackers will be front and center on coverage units (if the group earns it, obviously). This is where a veteran player like Alston, who’s had a taste of the speed of the game, can be invaluable. If he butts his way into the lineup, somehow, that’s a bonus.
Outlook: For any linebacker who has sights on a role in 2014, this is a season of positioning. The best way to do that is to contribute, whichever way possible. Barring injury, Alston probably doesn’t see much time on defense (Iowa usually uses a safety in nickel packages). His value is special teams. From there, who knows. There are new eyes on the position.
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