3 Position Battles to Watch: Defense

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With 8 starters returning there is less uncertainty about who will be playing defense for the Hawkeyes than on the offensive side. The open spots also have players that have gotten considerable experience, but there will still be some intense battles over the next few months.

CORNER BACK
One of the corner back spots will almost certainly be Shaun Prater, who started in all 10 games he played in last year. The other spot is wide open because of the early departure of Amari Spievey.

The Candiates:
  • Jordan Bernstine | Jr - Bernstine was expected to be the starter opposite of Spievey last year, but suffered a broken ankle during a punt coverage drill and missed the whole season. He has experience though and will have a good shot at starting.
  • Micah Hyde | So - Hyde was one of 3 true freshmen to play last season. He was the first to come in during the Orange Bowl when Prater had a minor injury, so he must have impressed the coaches throughout the year.
  • Willie Lowe | Jr - Lowe started two games last year and saw action in every game so he definitely has plenty of experience and will be in the mix as well.
  • Greg Castillo | So - Castillo started in the first game of the year, but then kind of dropped off with a minor injury slowed him down. He still has a chance though if he improves during the off season.
Prediction:
Even though I listed for players I think that it will come down to Berstine and Hyde. I am going to give Hyde the edge here because he was talented enough to play as a true freshman, and Berstine missed a lot of time.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
A.J. Edds had a lock on this spot the last couple of years and nobody behind him really got much experience. There is the possibility of some shakeup amongst the linebackers, so somebody from the weakside could easily switch sides.

The Candidates:
  • Tyler Nielsen | Jr - Nielsen played in every game last year and was sat second on the depth chart. He recorded 7 tackles including 2 solo tackles against OSU.
  • Jeff Tarpinian | Sr - Tarpinian was a special teams standout last year (see the kickoff coverage in the Orange Bowl for an example). He could probably play at any 3 of the linebacker positions so the strongside is a possibility.
  • Troy Johnson | Sr - Johnson started one game at WLB when Hunter was hurt at the end of the year. In his one start he earned the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Award with 11 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble and fumble recovery against Minnesota.
Prediction:
Nielsen has been groomed for this spot for the past couple of year, while I think the others may be competing more for another linebacker spot. So, I think we'll see Nielsen as the starting OLB for the next 2 years.

MIDDLE LINEBACKER
Around this time a year ago there were rumors that Coleman was going to red-shirt to take over the middle linebacker spot this year now that Pat Angerer is gone. However, Coleman decided to transfer leaving the spot wide open.

The Candidates:
  • Jeremiha Hunter | Sr - Hunter started as the weakside linebacker all year long, missing just 1 game with a minor injury. He was second on the team in tackles with 89 and has the potential to move inside.
  • Jeff Tarpinian | Sr - See above.
  • Troy Johnson | Sr - See above.
Prediction:
I think Hunter will move inside and takeover the middle linebacker position and lead the defense. If he stays at WLB, then I would go with Tarpinian, who I have tabbed at WLB if Hunter moves.
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