Iowa football defensive lineman Aaron Graves making strides throughout spring practice

Graves was one of eight true freshmen to see action in 2022 and is now looking to become Iowa’s next staunch pass rusher.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa defensive lineman Aaron Graves (95) celebrates after tackling Purdue running back Devin Mockobee (45) during a football game between Iowa and Purdue at Ross–Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Graves recorded three solo tackles and two were for a loss. The Hawkeyes defeated the Boilermakers, 24-3.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter

Iowa football defensive lineman Aaron Graves has big shoes to fill in 2023.

Following the departure of potential first-round NFL Draft pick Lukas Van Ness, Graves is looking to become Iowa’s next staunch pass rusher.

“I mean, we see [Van Ness] redshirt and then he’s going to be a first-round pick,” Graves said following spring practice at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. “That’s really inspiring to me because of where I’m starting, and where I think I can be. It’s very good to look up to a guy like that.”

Even with the departure of Van Ness, the defensive line is one of the deepest positions on Iowa’s squad and has been reloaded year after year under defensive coordinator Phil Parker. Graves emphasized the importance of the Hawkeyes’ defensive line depth and how rotating allows them to stay fresh on the field.

Defensive linemen Joe Evans, Noah Shannon, Yahya Black, and Logan Lee did not see much action during spring practice but are expected to be ready to go this fall.

Their absence has given Graves and sophomore Jeremiah Pittman more snaps this spring alongside junior and vocal leader Deontae Craig.

“[Graves] is a beast,” Craig said. “This is my first time really getting a long time playing with him, getting a feel for his moves and what he likes up front. It makes me excited to know that there are guys out there at every spot up front that are going to make plays when their number is called. He’s just one of those great people we have in that room.”

Head coach Kirk Ferentz said that Pittman has been one of the most improved players from last season and expects him to be in the mix for playing time in 2023.

Graves was one of eight true freshmen to see action in 2022, racking up 15 total tackles, six tackles for loss, and three sacks.

Playing time last season helped build Graves’ confidence,  but he said most of the progress he’s made is from his work in the offseason.

He came in four or five times a week in the winter, and defensive line coach Kelvin Bell gave him a list of stuff to work on, such as pass rush fundamentals and getting separation, for 45 minutes to an hour. Graves said these drills helped him develop better field vision and anticipation.

Graves added he’s about the same weight he was at the end of last season but feels bigger and stronger. He attributed this growth to spending more time in the weight room and committing to his nutrition.

“Basically the only way to do it is stuff my face,” Graves said.  “I mean, they feed us three meals every day and we have black cards too so we can go get healthy food. It’s all healthy — it’s just a lot. But you get used to it after a while, it just takes some discipline. More in the weight room after last season as well.”

Graves said he still has a lot to improve on but thinks his hard work is starting to pay off and hopes to showcase his skills in Kinnick this fall.

“Aaron is a guy who played well last year,”  Ferentz said. “Now in year two, he’s really moving forward. He just goes so hard. It’s unusual for a guy that young to have that kind of tempo. That’s just how he’s wired. It’s every day.”