Faith Ekakitie's move to defensive end this spring seemed to sync up with Drew Ott's injury.
Ekakitie, 6-3, 287, started spring practice as a backup defensive tackle. He ended it when Ott was in and out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury. Ott played through it, but D-line coach Reese Morgan acknowledged that a little more than halfway through spring Ott was dealing with an injury.
Short DE bodies, Ekakitie made the move. With the move being so fresh, Ekakitie played as though he was thinking, which is understandable. He's a redshirt freshman who was moved late in the spring.
The comparison I've heard a few time with Ekakitie is Broderick Binns, whose long arms helped him compensate for being maybe 6-1. Ekakitie is closer to 6-3 with the long arms, so that could work at defensive end. Binns had a good run from 2009-11.
Of course, the question is does this move stick? Ekakitie is blessed with a body that can play just about anywhere on the D-line. Iowa needs DEs more than it needs DTs, so this move probably sticks unless a different plan is drawn up in fall camp.
Key 2012 factors: Iowa's need for DE depth is marked. We've been through a few of the possibilities. During the spring game, Ekakitie played with the second team opposite sophomore Riley McMinn. Why elevate Ekakitie? My thought is he'll find somewhere to play on the D-line. Right now, he's needed for depth at DE. Ultimately, he's probably a 3-technique tackle, lining up on the outside shoulder of the guard. He's big and powerful-looking and is probably more suited to 3-technique moreso than a defensive end. Of course, I could be short-selling him on DE. If at 6-3, 287 he shows the wheels and quickness to play there, Iowa really has something.
Offseason factors: You have to measure what position coaches say in interviews about the players they coach, but Morgan is honest and has seen every type of player as a coach who's been in the game since 1973. You look at Ekakitie and it's hard not to be enthusiastic, but then you remember he's a redshirt freshman who hasn't played in a game yet.
And Morgan is well aware of this.
"Faith we think is a guy for the future, because he's very athletic, he can run, he’s smart," Morgan said this spring. "He’s just young, really young. We've been working with him, but he’s got some unique abilities."
Competition: For this exercise, let's assume Ekakitie is a DE. Senior Dominic Alvis is the No. 1 here. No.2 is Ott, who had an active spring game. No. 3 is . . . That might be where Ekakitie comes in. It might also be where Riley McMinn, Mike Hardy, Melvin Spears and Nate Meier come in. Alvis is the right end, the classic pass rush spot. Ott is positioned to be the power end on the right left side. This traditionally is a run-stopping position that doesn't have to be great at rushing the passer. This end is asked to play the C gap and play force. At 287 pounds, this sounds like something Ekakitie might be able to handle.
Why No. 31?: Ekakitie has been given the opportunity to show unique position flexibility. Presumably, he can play DT. He has that kind of build. He's been given the chance to show what he can do at DE. He could end up moving back inside. He could end up being a three-year starter at DE. That kind of flexibility makes him unique and valuable.
Outlook: Ekakitie will have to climb a lot of bodies to win the No. 3 DE spot. With an eight-man rotation in the plans, No. 4 might mean as much playing time, but he's not a cinch for the No. 4, either. Ekakitie took his first DE steps late in spring practice, so projection him to a spot on the two deeps is iffy. It's also a fact of life for the DE position at Iowa, which might be the biggest question mark position in the top 22. Iowa needs bodies/depth here and it will examine every option. Ekakitie is on a long list of potential contributors.Click here for an interactive look at the complete Top 45 series.