As it stands right now, it’s 50-50 whether or not Nico Law starts at strong safety for Iowa this fall.
Law, 6-1, 200, is the one you’ve been waiting for. He has had a “Bob Sanders” tag put on him (wrongly, because you’re talking about a one-of-a-kind all-timer). He has shown glimpses of being a punishing hitter (hi, Damon Bullock!). He didn’t start at the beginning of last season, but finally did edge ahead of senior Tommy Donatell and made four starts.
This spring, Law had an undisclosed injury and Iowa’s defensive staff finally got an extended look at John Lowdermilk. And now there is a race at the position.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker, who takes over (re-takes?) the secondary this season after Darrell Wilson’s departure to Rutgers, had a fairly frank conversation with the Big Ten Network’s Tom Dienhart in regard to the secondary this spring.
“We have a battle going on at the strong safety position with Nico Law and John Lowdermilk,” Parker said. “. . . We have to get better than where we are at now. The two strong points are Tanner Miller and B.J. Lowery.”
Key 2012 factor: Law made a move on the depth chart, which is significant. You can count on one hand how many sitting starters lose their jobs during a season in the last five or so seasons at Iowa. But by the time the Michigan game came along, the Iowa staff clearly was searching for someone, anyone, to run the safety positions at standard. It was a 42-17 defeat at Michigan Stadium that saw QB Devin Gardner gut Iowa’s secondary. (Yes, a pass rush would’ve come in handy.) All the safeties were rotated in. The wheels were officially off.
Offseason factor: Law had a nagging injury (I want to say hamstring) that kept him out of Iowa’s scrimmage in Des Moines this spring. A few weeks later when it was time to scrimmage in Iowa City, Law played as the No. 2 strong safety behind Lowdermilk. That’s far from the final word on the position. It will grind well into August, but Law can’t be happy with that. You don’t get this far by settling on “hey, I’m No. 2 on the depth chart, that’s pretty good, right?” This might be the most fiercely competitive position on the Iowa roster.
Competition: Lowdermilk has obviously made up ground. Law won the job at some point last season. Both players are true juniors, so there’s no advantage on the “hunger meter.” Can any of the next wave of safeties make a push? Probably not, but those names include redshirt freshman Anthony Gair and incoming freshman Malik Rucker. Redshirt freshman Greg Mabin has moved to safety, but he’ll likely compete at free safety.
Why No. 30?: As a starter or special teamer, Law is a valuable player. He can deliver a hit. He can give opposing WRs something to think about. Law is a positive personality. If he loses the job, his lights won’t go out. He will contribute and keep pushing whomever the No. 1 strong safety ends up being.
Outlook: The ball is in Law’s court. He needs to get to whatever it was that pushed him to No. 1 on the depth chart last season. He needs to confront whatever is holding him back and erase it. Whatever happens at strong safety, it’ll surely be the flashpoint for the circular debate that “Ferentz doesn’t play the best players.” Coaches who don’t play the best players tend to be ex-coaches. Also, there is no way we can know everything that goes into those decisions. Unless, of course, one of you out there operates one of those cameras on a crane that records every practice. So, c’mon with that already.
Check this interview. Law is a straight-up, honest guy who knows what’s in front of him and knows there’s work to do.