Point/Counterpoint: Who will step up on the Hawkeye defense?
Iowa had a lot of departures on the defensive side of the ball, and it needs someone to step up.
May 6, 2019
One of Iowa’s best defensive players of 2018 won’t be on the team this season. Amani Hooker was selected in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans, leaving a void in the Hawkeye secondary.
Luckily for Iowa, and not so luckily for opposing quarterbacks, the position will be filled by Geno Stone.
Stone possesses impressive ball skills that can turn a game around, and he made his mark when Hooker shuffled around the field to play a safety-linebacker hybrid.
Stone finished the 2018 season tied for the team lead with 4 interceptions and scored his first touchdown with a Pick-6 against Penn State on a 24-yard return on Oct. 27.
He also made 39 stops, defended 3 passes, and forced a fumble. Now, imagine his production in a full season in defensive coordinator Phil Parker’s scheme.
Iowa will be perfectly fine at corner next season. Starters Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins both return, and Riley Moss and Julius Brents — who both impressed observers when thrust into action — will also come back as more experienced sophomores.
Safety is where the Hawkeye secondary should get iffier, but it doesn’t because of Stone. Hooker and fellow starter Jake Gervase might be gone, but they are being replaced by their prodigy.
Stone will become the quarterback of the defense.
Entering his junior season, Stone finally has the experience — and the chance — to make the secondary his. He won’t miss his opportunity.
The Iowa defense is going to have a new look when it swarms Kinnick for the first time in September.
The entire starting defensive line from last season either graduated, or in Anthony Nelson’s case, declared for the NFL Draft. Amani Hooker and Jake Gervase will no longer be patrolling the secondary and making game-changing plays.
At the second level of the defense, Jack Hockaday has put on the Black and Gold for the last time but leaves behind an experienced and versatile group of linebackers.
Among that group is Kristian Welch, who is ready to shine in his senior season.
Last spring, Welch was seen by many as the successor to Josey Jewell at middle linebacker in the Iowa defense. Amani Jones then went on a tear to earn the starting spot in the middle over Welch, and then Hockaday took over for Jones in the first game.
In the meantime, Welch started at weak-side linebacker for three games and displayed an impressive combination of strength in the running game and athleticism in the passing game, specifically in nickel packages.
Welch eventually got his time in the middle when Hockaday went down with an injury, and Jones got ejected for targeting, continuing to show his versatility for the Hawkeyes. Welch totaled 49 tackles for the Hawkeyes in 2018 while also picking off a pass against Illinois.
Going into the 2019 season, Welch is again slotted to start in the middle, and this time, he should have a full season’s worth of reps to display his talent and lead the Iowa defense.