Drew Ott went from eight-man football in Giltner, Neb., in 2011 to being shoved into a Big Ten game at Northwestern late last season.
Ready or not, get in there.
Ott (6-4, 265) sat for the first seven weeks of 2012. It looked as though he would redshirt, which made sense. The leap from Giltner to Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill., is a grunt. Also, Ott plays a contact position on the line of scrimmage. That’s were it becomes a matter of maturity, when an 18-year-old finds out how important a college weighroom is when he locks up with a 22- or 23-year-old.
He played he final five games and logged three tackles. He didn’t exactly set the world on fire, and so the question on whether or not he was ready for playing time is kind of the Drew Ott meme going into this season. The simple answer there is forget it. The staff felt it needed him. Iowa’s defense had decided to play eight D-linemen. You can’t go back in time, you can’t keep senior Joe Gaglione from injuring his knee in the first half at Northwestern.
“We took the redshirt off Drew last fall during the season,” coach Kirk Ferentz said last week. “It was two things, we were inexperienced on the defensive line and had a real need. We also were really impressed with the way Drew was working everyday.
“It was a 50-50 proposition. We decided it would be the best thing for him and he was in agreement with it, so we threw him out there on the field and thought he did a really good job. The good thing is I think that experience would help him moving forward. That was our thought process. He wasn’t really ready to play Big Ten football last fall, but I think that experience will push him forward faster than we could’ve done. He had a really good spring and we’re looking forward to seeing him on the field the next three years.”
Key 2012 factor: Ott played, so ready or not. If nothing else, it showed he was ready and engaged. For a true freshman, that’s a great start. The value here isn’t anything that Ott did last season, it was the set up for this season. Ott goes into August as the starter opposite senior Dominic Alvis at defensive end. This is a tremendous opportunity for the true sophomore. Yes, Iowa D-line coach Reese Morgan mentioned this spring that Iowa intends to use a rotation on the D-line, with as many as eight players moving in and out.
Still, if Ott hangs on to the starter’s role, that’s a giant opportunity for three years of productivity, assuming the growth comes as it did this winter (Ott listed weight from 245 to 265).
Offseason factor: That’s pretty fantastic weight gain, and it’s completely necessary. Alvis, 6-4, 265, is positioned as the right end, which is typically the one who’s assigned with putting pressure on the blindside of a right-handed QB. The role could change, but right now, Ott is in the left defensive end spot. Iowa doesn’t switch DEs to adjust to an offense. The ends are anchored to their sides. Often, the left DE ends up on the strong side. Typically, the left DE is the leverage point of the defense. He can’t allow his outside shoulder to get pinned and allow an offense to turn the corner. This is usually a larger/stronger end who plays at the point of attack. A lot depends on what the Iowa staff wants out of this position or what the DE candidates can give them. So, there’s flexibility here and it’s probably open ended heading into camp.
Competition: Loads. If Iowa really wants a power end who has the tools to hold a point of attack, could that be redshirt freshman Faith Ekakitie? He’ll walk into camp around 290 pounds. Junior Mike Hardy is up to 270 and he should be ready for that kind of a role. Sophomores Riley McMinn and Melvin Spears will want playing time. If Iowa goes pure power philosophy here, sophomore Nate Meier probably isn’t a candidate at 235.
When Iowa, or any team, really, is searching for an answer at a position, it usually pours as many bodies as possible on it. That’s what’s happening at DE.
Why No. 24?: What an opportunity for Ott. He could be a starter as a sophomore on the defensive line. Iowa needs improved D-line play and Ott is diving right in. The Iowa staff won’t ask Ott to do things he’s not capable of doing. The trick there is finding out exactly what those things might be. This is still a discovery period with Ott. August will be telling for him. Let’s see where he lines up on Aug. 17. It’s noteworthy that Hardy started in front of Ott in the spring game.
Outlook: Ott is at the front of the line right now. Does he own the left defensive end spot? Probably not. Here’s what D-line coach Reese Morgan said this spring, “He’s been solid. Got dinged a little bit the other day,” Morgan said about the search for DEs. “And then we are just kind of looking. I think there are a lot of good candidates.”
It’s still a search. Ott’s job to make it a quick search.