May is notoriously the slowest month for fans of college football. Spring ball is done. Summer workouts haven't begun. Incoming freshmen have yet to arrive.
It's a "May Daze."
There's no sense sitting around and moping about it. You can only perform so much yard work. Let's take a look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, position-by-position, and create some discussion.
Here are the previous installments in this series:
Next up, the Linebackers:
Tyler Nielsen. No doubt in my mind.
Iowa suffered finding someone to play LEO when he went down with an injury last year. Through the years, it's proven to be the most difficult position on the Hawkeye defense to fill from a versatility standpoint.
Nielsen, a senior, was groomed to step in for A.J. Edds, who departed for the NFL after the 2009 season. He played exceptionally well in doing so.
Nielsen fits the mold of a guy, like Edds, who is athletically gifted enough to cover the tight end and also come up to support the run. If he remains healthy and puts together a solid senior season, he's more than capable of making money on Sundays in the future.
I worry a little about bulk and strength, but Christian Kirksey appears to possess every other positive trait to be a successful Big ten linebacker. Over the last several years, coordinator Norm Parker has tried to become more athletic on defense and the true sophomore from St. Louis fits into that movement.
Jeremiha Hunter largely went unnoticed as a three-year starter at the WLB, but that's because he did his job. While unspectacular, he was steady, productive and real good against the rush.
The question for Kirksey, and classmate Anthony Hitchens, who also could see time at WLB and in special packages, will be playing the run. They'll have to show they can get off blocks and to the ball carrier.
Kirksey will be an upgrade from Hunter in pass defense with an ability to cover more of the field for a longer amount of time. There definitely could be some growing pains here, but the ceiling is really high for the sophomore.
James Morris ran away with this category last year, part out of talent and the rest from need. The true freshman accounted well for himself at a very demanding MLB spot.
Iowa coaches are hoping injuries don't create another opening at the position that necessitates using a true freshman on a full time basis.
If it does come to that, New Jersey's Quinton Alston seems the most Big Ten-ready of the incoming players at the linebacker. A returning Hawkeye who might make some noise is Dakota Getz, who moved from TE to LB in the fall but was hampered by injury.
I have a feeling the coaches would like to redshirt Alston, but I think they're going to be tempted to use him on special teams. He's a very good, tough football player that can help there. It could depend on how Bruce Davis returns from his ACL surgery.
Because of the redshirt possibility and the slim chances that injuries hit this position as hard as it did last year, I think the odds are better that Getz sees more action than does Alston. I'll go with the Macon, Ill. product as my breakout guy at linebacker.
Shane Dibona was thrown into the fire and asked to play all three linebacker positions last season. He struggled with consistency and staying healthy, but performed admirably considering the lack of experience he brought with him.
I think last year's reps will make the Massachusetts native more hungry to get back out there this fall. The fact that the coaches felt comfortable enough to use him at all three linebacker positions shows a rare versatility as all of those spots require contrasting skill sets.
There doesn't appear to be a starting position available for DiBona right now unless he can crack into the conversation on the weak side with Kirksey and Hitchens. But I feel like we're going to see more four linebacker sets this year and DiBona has as good of a chance as any of the non-starters to see time when that happens. And, again, his ability to play play all three positions on the second level will allow him to seamlessly step in for an injury to a No. 1.