2014 Football Position Previews: Linebackers
When Reggie Spearman stepped on the field for his first practice as a Hawkeye, he thought Quinton Alston was Iowa’s starting middle linebacker. Spearman said he saw Alston “flying around [and] making plays.”
“I was just like, dang, who is this guy? I didn’t know about this guy,” sophomore Spearman said. “I knew about James, Hitchens, and Kirksey. But I didn’t know about this guy.”
Everybody knew about James Morris, Anthony Hitchens, and Christian Kirksey, Iowa’s senior linebacker trio in the 2013 season. All three started each game, and they were the crux of a defense that at one point was ranked among the top 10 in the country. They combined for 323 tackles last season, a little more than 35 percent of the team’s total tackle count.
But all three graduated and are now on NFL rosters. This presents an opportunity for such guys as Spearman, Alston, and junior Travis Perry, all of whom are set to take over the starting spots at weakside, middle, and outside linebacker.
Senior Alston has been labeled the unquestioned leader of the group. He has the most experience of the listed starting linebackers, and he’s set to be the man at middle linebacker, which is where the captain of the defense is usually positioned.
“Guys like Q,” Iowa linebacker coach LeVar Woods said. “When Q speaks, people listen. He has a great James Earl Jones voice that I always joke about.
“He’s a very vocal leader. And when he sees something that’s not quite right, when he sees someone step out of line, he’s not afraid to say something, which is good. That’s what you look for in leaders.”
Alston’s job might come with some growing pains in 2014, as the current group of linebackers combined for just 33 tackles in 2013, with 32 credited to Perry, Spearman, and Alston (Cole Fisher, a junior, made 1 tackle last year).
Even more, two of the seven listed linebackers on Iowa’s most recent two deeps are redshirt freshmen. This makes Alston’s job all the more important, and it will surely test his leadership skills.
But head football coach Kirk Ferentz said he has confidence in Alston.
“Some guys just make you feel good,” Ferentz said at Iowa’s media day. “You know, two springs ago, if you had asked me about Q, I would have said I had some concerns because he was just kind of doing OK out there, and OK is not good enough for a guy that is going to be playing middle linebacker … and then he really flipped it around.
“When you see that light come on or the switch flip a little bit, it’s fun. That’s what we’ve seen now from two different springs from Q. I think last year, had he not been behind three very good players, he would have played very well. I’m very confident in saying that.”
This year will certainly be a challenge, Alston said. But, after spending years learning from Morris, Hitchens, and Kirksey, he said he’s ready for it.
“You just learn, little bit by little bit, what you need to focus on and what really matters,” Alston said. “The big picture will all come together from those small details.”
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