D-line moves on but with question marks into new season

BY SCOTT MILLER | APRIL 23, 2009 7:29 AM

It has been awhile since Iowa has had question marks along the defensive line. Four years to be exact.

The Hawkeyes’ 31-10 victory over South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day marked the end of that era. Senior defensive tackles and four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul, who had become staples of the defensive front, played their last game in the Black and Gold.

“I couldn’t ask for a better ending,” King said at the time.

But with that ending, head coach Kirk Ferentz was left scouring his roster during spring practice for the next playmakers along the defensive line, specifically at defensive tackle.

In an April 14 teleconference, Ferentz said right now, the team will call on four players — junior Karl Klug, sophomore Mike Daniels, redshirt freshman Steve Bigach, and injured junior Cody Hundertmark (shoulder) — to fill the void at defensive tackle.

“All those guys will probably be rotating in and out,” the 11-year head coach said. “Just like Shonn [Greene] kind of went the distance for us at running back [last year], King and Kroul have done the same thing for four years. “I think probably next year what we’re looking at is playing all four of those guys. I’m not sure what roles yet, but all of those guys will be involved.”

Ferentz and defensive coordinator Norm Parker made it clear no one can replace King and Kroul, but Parker hinted he has sights set on two junior defensive linemen — Christian Ballard and Adrian Clayborn — to pick up the slack, especially in the leadership department.

“I mean every year it’s a new chemistry, it’s a new leader, and somebody has to take over,” Parker said on April 14. “I think on our defense right now, Ballard and Clayborn have definitely tried to become King and Kroul up there on that defensive line.

“They have really stepped up their game and stepped up their leadership and they’ve tried to do that.”

With good depth all along the defensive line, sophomore Broderick Binns — who made his presence known late in the season against Purdue, with a fumble recovery and a pass break-up that led to an interception — might get lost in the shuffle.

Currently listed behind Ballard at the left defensive end position, Binns could have a bigger role in 2009.

“Broderick Binns is a guy we saw come on especially in November, December last year,” Ferentz said after the team’s spring scrimmage on April 18. “He’s continued that ascension, too. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”

In fact, the St. Paul, Minn., native could eventually start at defensive end if Parker chooses to play Ballard at tackle — something the defensive coordinator tried during the team’s spring scrimmage April 18.

“I’ll play wherever they need me,” Ballard said. “It’s definitely fun to play on the inside, just to move it up, but I think I have the athleticism to play wherever I need to play.”

Regardless of who starts on the defensive line, Ballard knows that a solid front four has always been the backbone of good Hawkeye defenses. It’s something King and Kroul established in their four years in Iowa City, and it’s something Ballard and Clayborn hope to continue the next two years.

“When you look at our good defenses in the past, the front four has been really, really good,” Ballard said. “We’re just going to come out here, bring some excitement out there. What we did our freshman year is get everybody excited, and I think if we can just keep on doing that, the sky’s the limit on how good our defense can be.”

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