Position Preview: LB

True juniors James Morris and Christian Kirksey bring the kind of experience to linebacker that could make it one of the standout units for Iowa in 2012.

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IOWA CITY, Iowa - During the last two seasons, Iowa linebackers James Morris and Christian Kirksey have taken their share of lumps. They're hoping that it prepared them to hand some out this fall.

The Hawkeye true juniors bring experience for first-year position coach, LeVar Woods. The third likely starter, Anthony Hitchens, also provides some experience.

That's the good news. After the top three, and fifth-year senior, reserve Tom Donatell, the position is pretty green.

"When things are competitive it brings the best out of people," Woods said. "The people that are competitive, that are true competitors, which is what we want in players, those guys will rise to the top and those guys will help lead the defense and help our team improve."

Junior Dakota Getz and true sophomore Quinton Alston are Iowa's most experienced linebackers after the four guys mentioned above. They have a combined seven tackles, all by Alston in limited duty last season.

True sophomore Marcus Collins helped out on special teams from Day 1 in 2011. He picked up eight tackles in 10 games.

Jim Poggi missed last season with an injury after redshirting the year before as a true freshman. He was ranked as an overall Top 100 player nationally coming out of high school.

A couple of redshirt freshmen, Cole Fisher and Travis Perry, could emerge as factors. They're gifted athletically and have a year of college tutelage under their belts.

Iowa is bringing in only one true freshman, Detroit's Laron Taylor. He could crack the rotation, but expect to see a lot of Morris, Kirksey and Hitchens if they stay healthy.

Maybe having players with clean football minds will be good for Iowa. It sounds like Woods is going to shake up some things at the position.

"What we do defensively may be called different, maybe tweaked different, I may ask you to read something different or look at it a different way, which, you know, can sort of lead to (dis)comfort but it keeps people on their toes which makes for a competitive environment," he said.

Iowa has transformed their second level on defense into a group of athletes who can cover receivers. In doing so, however, they've become susceptible to the rush.

The key here will be for the guys like Morris and Kirksey to keep their ability to run with wideouts while adding strength through maturity to stuff the run.

The Hawkeye defensive coaches also have talked about press coverage on the outside, which could lead to more blitzing from the linebackers. Iowa's group is quick enough to do some damage on those occasions.

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