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Hawks' D-line puts on the pressure

BY JORDAN HANSEN | APRIL 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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DES MOINES — Churning out quality defensive linemen is something that the Iowa football program has done for years, and if the team’s open practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines Valley is to be believed, the Hawkeyes are doing it once again.

Iowa rotated its line extensively, but a good portion of the first-team defensive line snaps went to ends Nate Meier and Drew Ott, who bookended tackles Jaleel Johnson and Nate Bazata.

The unit was in the backfield numerous times and even when subs such as Matt Nelson were thrown in, the group still dominated their offensive counterparts.

“The biggest thing right now is to come in and get better day-by-day going into fall camp,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s working hard, the depth is pretty all right, and we got a few guys rotating in and out.”

While Iowa is breaking in a fairly young offensive line, Johnson was quick off the ball and disrupted a number of plays. He provided a lot of pressure on C.J. Beathard and helped force several situations where the junior quarterback had to take off and run.

Similarly, Meier, Ott, and Nelson were all able to have success against Iowa’s two sophomore offensive tackles — Ike Boettger and Boone Myers. There’s certainly an experience gap between the defensive ends and offensive tackles, but even taking that into account, the defensive line could end up being one of the Hawkeye’s strengths this season.

A knock on the group is depth, but if the 6-8, 270-pound Nelson can continue to progress as several players and head coach Kirk Ferentz hope, it would certainly help.

“They were rotating him in, and he’s coming along pretty quickly,” Ott said. “That should be good for us.”

Offensive line a work in progress

It was no secret that losing Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal to the draft would be tough to swallow.

It’s also no secret that offensive tackles Boettger and Myers struggled quite a bit during the practice, though that is in part because they were going against a pair of experienced defensive ends.

“They’re getting tested each and every day,” Ferentz said. “They win some and lose some, and they’re starting to win some. They weren’t winning many, if any, at our open practice.

“It’s a progression thing, and hopefully, by August, they’ll be in better shape.”

With Ferentz’s track record for success with offensive linemen, it would be hard to believe they won’t get better as time passes.

“We just need experience, more reps; spring ball is really good for us,” Boettger said. “This summer we’ll get stronger, and when camp comes around, we’ll get back to work again.”

Searching for linebackers

Without a doubt, one of the Hawkeye’s biggest issues a season ago was consistent (or not) linebacker play.

Quinton Alston and Reggie Spearman are both gone, and a multitude of players were in the mix during the practice.

Ben Niemann, Travis Perry, Bo Bower, and Josey Jewell all got significant snaps with the first-team. They also moved around quite a bit, something Jewell touched on after the practice.

“Top-three, top-four guys can play all three positions, inside and outside,” Jewell said. “Right now, it’s just we’re all moving around, and it’s great for understanding the defense. We all know what everyone else is doing, so we all know the defense.”

Follow @JordyHansen for news, updates and analysis about the Iowa football team.


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