2011 Predictions: Defensive Breakout Player

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It has been a little while since I made my predictions for the offensive and special teams breakout players for 2011 and I'm now just getting around to defense.

Jordan Bernstine

Bernstine was heavily recruited out of high school and came to Iowa with some big expectations. Every year I have thought, "okay, this is the year" for Bernstine only to see him on the sidelines for one reason or another. As a freshman he was beaten out by Amari Spievey. As a sophomore he broke his ankle during camp and missed the season. As a junior was suspended the first game of the year for public intox and spent the rest of a year as a backup. But now he's a senior and this is the last chance for it to be his year.

Bernstine was listed as a second string corner back at the conclusion of spring. However, during the spring game, and from all accounts all of spring practice, he played both corner and strong safety. Safety is probably his best bet at playing time with both starters from last year now departed and both starting corners returning (even though Micah Hyde may end up at free safety).

Helping Bernstine's cause at safety is that Norm Parker recently said that the position could be handled by committee this year. So even if Bernstine doesn't win the starting spot he'll still likely see playing time as part of a rotation. Additionally, we saw Norm really mix up the personnel packages on defense during the Insight Bowl. With a relatively inexperienced front 7 I would expect that trend to continue and that we will see more nickel and dime on passing downs. So again, if Bernstine isn't a starter, he'd be a likely candidate as the nickel back.

Way to early prediction: Bernstine will emerge as the starting strong safety, though will be in a rotation with Tanner Miller. Bernstine will be particularly effective coming up and making plays against the run. He will finish the year with 75 tackles and 3 INTs.

3 Others to Watch

B.J. Lowery - If Hyde's move to FS is permanent, Lowery is the likely replacement at corner. Lowery played in 7 games last year as a true freshman and had 5 tackles. He was a reported ball-hawk during spring practice and had a pick in the spring game.

Dominic Alvis - Alvis surprised me during the spring game rotating with Carl Davis as one of the first team defensive tackles. Like past Iowa DTs he is a little undersized. He was actually listed as a defensive end at the beginning of spring practice. But, if Iowa is trying to get the best 4 guys on the field, he seems to be number 4 at this point.

Christian Kirksey - Kirksey could help bring some speed and cover ability to the linebackers. He built a little bit more like a safety, but will likely be the weakside linebacker. I could see him being used as a S/LB hybrid and allow Iowa to stay in its base 4-3 on passing downs but use Kirksey like a nickel back.
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