D-line ready to fill big shoes

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The Daily Iowan

Iowa defensive end Drew Ott runs to grab the ball from a Nebraska fumbled punt in Kinnick Stadium on Friday, November 28, 2014. Ott scored a touchdown off the play. Iowa was defeated by Nebraska in overtime, 37-34. (The Daily Iowan/Alyssa Hitchcock)

2015 Position Previews: Drew Ott is set to lead one of Iowa’s most experienced units.

By Ryan Rodriguez
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In 2014, Iowa’s defensive line was arguably the team’s most effective unit, forming the backbone of a defense that was extremely young and still learning on the job.

This season, those roles have reversed to an extent. The loss of standout tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat to the NFL means seniors Nate Meier and Drew Ott will be the most experienced men in the trenches for the Hawkeyes. Junior Jaleel Johnson and sophomore Nathan Bazata will be asked to fill the enormous shoes of Davis and Trinca-Pasat.

Ott, a standout in his own right, will most likely shoulder a heavy load both on the field and in the locker room as he guides his line through the first few weeks of the season.

“I’ve started the longest, and I have the most experience under my belt, so if people need help or anything like that they should be able to come to me, and I should be able to give them an answer,” he said.

Ott’s role as player-coach will provide defensive-line coach Reese Morgan with perhaps his best teaching tool possible, near constant guidance on and off the field from one of the Big Ten’s most effective and dynamic defensive linemen.

Luckily for him, both Johnson and Bazata appear to be fast learners, at least through the first few weeks of camp.

“You can see guys are growing and maturing and starting to understand the defense better,” Morgan said. “They understand the concepts better, and they have some big shoes to fill, but I think we have four guys that we feel comfortable with inside that can go in and contribute.”

The 6-4 Johnson saw action in all 13 games last season and more than a half dozen the season before that, though none of them were starts.

Bazata saw action in nine, recording 4 solo tackles.

It’s not exactly a wealth of experience, but for Morgan and Company, lack of experience is hardly a cause for concern.

“We feel good about four or five guys, especially at the defensive-end position,” Morgan said. “We’ve got our starters, obviously, but then we’ve got everyone in our second group, too. So you’ve got five different guys here who we think can all help us go out and win.”

Iowa’s defensive depth is bolstered largely by underclassmen, whether it be redshirt freshman Matt Nelson and Parker Hesse or even senior Bud Spears, all of whom Morgan was emphatic about putting in should the situation dictate it.

But for now, it’ll most likely be Johnson and Bazata who pick up the lion’s share of snaps at tackle, both of whom have had plenty of time to see how an NFL-caliber tackle such as Carl Davis goes to work.

“We’ve learned a lot from those guys [Davis and Trinca-Pasat] the past few years,” Johnson said. “If it wasn’t for them, I’d probably be a little bit behind of where I’m at right now.

“I’m still learning, but some of the more experienced guys really taught me to be who I am right now.”

 

Follow @ryanarod on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa football team.

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