Hawkeye Football Position Previews: Defensive backs
“Student of the game” is one of the many football clichés one hears when talking about a studious athlete. But “teacher of the game” is seldom heard, even though one cannot exist without the other.
Safety Tanner Miller spent last season learning from older players such as Shaun Prater and Jordan Bernstine. This season, it’s his turn to reciprocate give guidance to less-experienced members of the Hawkeye secondary.
“That’s what our program is built on, having older guys to rely on to show the younger guys the ropes and how we play here,” Miller said. “I embrace that role this year. I’m pretty confident with it, and I think you’ll see it in those young guys come this fall.”
The Hawkeyes have plenty of experience at cornerback, with seniors Micah Hyde and Greg Castillo and junior B.J. Lowery. But it’s up to Miller and the rest of Iowa’s returning secondary to teach whoever fills the vacant strong-safety position — likely either senior walk-on Tom Donatell or sophomore Nico Law.
Law turned heads with his hard-hitting ability in spring practices this year, and he said his more experienced teammates helped prepare him to compete for a starting spot.
“We have a lot of older guys who are on the defense who are very good leaders that help everyone,” Law said.
All that returning experience, and the dynamic ability of younger players such as Law, make the secondary one of Iowa’s strongest units this season.
That’s different from last season, when things weren’t looking too bright following the departures of safeties Brett Greenwood and Tyler Sash. Miller was called upon to take the free safety spot after seeing very limited action as a true freshman the year before.
It was so desperate for Iowa that Hyde was forced into filling the other safety spot before moving back to his natural position when the Hawkeyes surrendered 279 passing yards and 4 touchdowns to Steele Jantz of Iowa State.
The situation isn’t so grim for this year’s group of D-backs. The unit is being called a strength to Iowa’s defense, perhaps even the entire team.
Hyde returns as the leader for the group, coming off a junior campaign that featured a team-leading 3 interceptions, along with 8 pass breakups and 1 fumble recovery. Either Castillo or Lowery, who each saw action in every game last season, will likely fill the other corner spot.
Even though expectations are running particularly high for this unit, Castillo said that he and his teammates ignore the hype while trying to get better. He said becoming a tutor to other players is a feeling that is more foreign to him than the lofty goals set for the Iowa defensive secondary in the preseason.
“It’s kind of weird being the old guy around here,” Castillo said. “If the younger guys have questions, I’m more than willing to answer. I know the defense enough I can give them a concise answer, and they’ll be OK.”
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