‘Next Men In’ at D-Line for Hawkeyes


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The Iowa defensive line is in the midst of a mass exodus.

Much ado has been made about the departures of Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, and Karl Klug — and justifiably so. In each player, the Hawkeyes lose productivity, experience, and NFL-caliber talent.

In 2010, those three combined for 152 tackles, including 25 for loss.

In their careers, they amassed 102 starts.

And later this month, all three are expected to be selected in the 2011 NFL draft.

Even senior end Broderick Binns said the trio’s absence at the start of spring practice was “weird” to see.

“It’s something we just have to get used to,” he said Wednesday. “Those guys are on to bigger and better things now; we just have to move on and press on.”

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Binns and senior tackle Mike Daniels — now the group’s two most veteran players — don’t appear to be lacking confidence despite those losses.

In his typical short and to-the-point fashion, Daniels made it clear that expectations haven’t dipped.

“The mentality [for the defensive line] hasn’t changed,” he said. “The bar is set, and it’s our job to reach and go beyond it.”

But then again, why should the thinking change? The Kirk Ferentz-coached Hawkeyes have been familiar with replacing All-Big Ten defensive linemen. Finding players to fill in for the likes of Matt Roth and Jonathan Babineaux following the 2004 season seemed like a tall order, too.

Then two players named Mitch King and Matt Kroul arose to the forefront. That duo combined for a career 466 tackles. Again, the process repeated itself, and again, new faces made names for themselves: Clayborn, Ballard, and Klug.

This is the Iowa way, Binns said.

“Guys leave, and then the young guys and the new fifth-year seniors come in, and they just continue to fill that role,” he said. “The leadership role should never skip a beat. The years I’ve been here it hasn’t. You learn from King, Kroul, Adrian, Klug, Ballard — so we step back and learn from those guys, and now it’s our turn to do what they did.”

Ferentz expressed that same philosophy during his press conference on March 23, the first day of spring practice. The 13th-year head coach noted the example of senior-to-be linebacker Tyler Nielsen’s 2010 performance. Called on to fill in for the graduated A.J. Edds, Nielsen filled in admirably. He recorded 42 tackles in eight games before his season ended because of a neck injury.

“I think we’ll have similar stories,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz may be altering the Iowa way slightly this year in that more players may be rotated in along the line during games. He said on he could see the Hawkeyes playing “six to eight guys.”

Last season, Iowa primarily stuck with five players (Clayborn, Ballard, Klug, Binns, Daniels).

Besides Daniels and Binns, others who figure to be included in that “six to eight” are seniors Lebron Daniel, Joe Forgy, and Thomas Nardo, junior Steve Bigach, sophomore Dominic Alvis, and redshirt freshman Carl Davis.

After Daniel sat behind Clayborn at end in the depth chart for the last couple years, Binns said he in particular appears to be seizing his opportunity as he enters his fifth season in the program.

“He’s going to be a guy we can look to make plays,” Binns said. “The pass rush is his main strength. He’s quick off the line, has good hands and feet, and he’s able to turn the corner and get to the quarterback.”

With such depth at defensive line, no other position may see as much competition this spring for Iowa.

And that’s a beautiful thing for the Hawkeyes.

“Doesn’t matter how many guys you have, guys are still pushing for a starting position regardless,” Daniels said. “The competition is amped, and that makes us all better.”

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