Notebook: Reid, Woods talk during spring practice

BY DANNY PAYNE | APRIL 02, 2015 5:00 AM

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Iowa linebacker coach Jim Reid and tight-end coach LeVar Woods met with the media before the Hawkeyes continued their spring practice Wednesday. Iowa is set to return five lettermen at linebacker and three at tight end.

Position shifting

Reid said one of the biggest things Iowa’s linebackers are focused on during spring is being able to play different positions. Bo Bower has moved from outside linebacker to No. 1 at the weakside position. Josey Jewell moved from the outside and is listed as Iowa’s starting middle linebacker.

This versatility is important because it allows Reid and defensive coordinator Phil Parker to shift easily into different packages and sets. Being able to make calls from every position is important too, especially with the loss of leadership from Quinton Alston.

“What we are trying to do now is have all the positions be fluid, so we can go from inside to outside. There’s a lot of shifting that goes on,” Reid said. “So we are just trying to slide the backers to wherever the strength of the foundation might be.”

In addition to guys such as Jewell and Bower, Iowa will also rotate in Cole Fisher and Travis Perry, who have a combined six letters. That’s not mentioning Ben Niemann, who spent time playing middle linebacker last year in his freshman campaign.

“[Niemann] just has instincts to the ball, and he’s got a great opportunity to get up there and show a little bit of what he can do right from the get go, because now we’ve moved all the way inside so that these first five, six practices that will be constant, and it’s working out, I think, really well,” Reid said.

Building on last year

It’s no secret Iowa’s linebackers have experience, and Reid said, the next step in their development is both physical and mental. Some have shown ability to make big plays and flashes of what they could be.

Reid gave the example of Jewell, who led Iowa with 14 tackles in the loss to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl. He likes the speed he plays with and the nose for the ball, which will — in Reid’s eyes — eventually lead to the goal — tackles for loss.

“[Two years ago, James Morris and Anthony Hitches] had 30.5 tackles for losses,” Reid said. “And that wasn’t because Coach Parker was calling a lot of blitzes or pressures. It was because of really good reads, and fast movement, and experience.

“Last year, we had a total of I think it was 18 sets, minus 12, of minus yards played for our defense against an opponent’s offense … We have a nice consistency of real heady players who are very aggressive up the field and are athletic enough to bring us back, hopefully anyway, to that number that we had in 2013.”

A new home

Head coach Kirk Ferentz shuffled some of his staff in February, and among the coaches who changed places was Woods. Now the tight-end coach, Woods served the last three years as the linebacker coach.

Woods played tight end on Iowa’s scout team in 1997, and outside of that, he said his familiarity with the position isn’t too extensive.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t shocked,” he said. “Offensively, it’s totally different to me.  It’s totally foreign to me. So in that sense, it’s like a completely different school, program, operation, everything. So I’m always on edge, always kind of sprinting around this place not quite sure where I’m supposed to be at the right time. But that can be good, and that will help me move forward and progress quicker.”

Luckily for Woods, he has three players with experience at the position. Jake Duzey has been a mainstay for the last two years, and Henry Krieger Coble and George Kittle have seen some time in their Iowa careers as well.

As one could imagine, Woods said position meetings have been a learning experience so far and have been collaborative. He said he urges his group to correct him if he’s wrong or not going in the right direction.

“I don’t think I lack confidence in what I’m doing, and the guys have been great, because I don’t think they see that, either — I hope they don’t see that,” Woods said. “But for me, it’s just a matter of understanding, what are we trying to do. What’s the play, for one; what’s my role in the play? And then I think just from playing on the other side of the ball and knowing how to attack defensively, attacking the offensive position, I think that helps me.”

Finding the right combinations

As noted above, Woods has options with the tight-end combinations he can use. Duzey was third on the team in receptions 36 for 392 yards and 3 touchdowns. Krieger Coble is used primarily as a blocker, and Kittle is perhaps the best athlete of the three.

The biggest challenge for the Hawkeyes is finding ways to put them in the best positions to succeed and use their skills advantageously. Iowa typically runs two-tight end sets, and luckily has players with significant service time at the position to use.

“It’s just a matter of when their number is called, and we throw them the ball, execute and then catching the ball and making the play,” Woods said.

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