Position Preview: Defensive Back

We wrap up our 2014 HI preseason position previews with defensive back. Johnny Lowdermilk and Desmond King lead a group trying to speed up its learning curve.

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Special Teams

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Sometimes things don't go as planned and work out just fine. Iowa's secondary situation from last season serves as a prime example.

Jordan Lomax opened the campaign as a starting cornerback. He injured his hamstring in Week 1 and true freshman Desmond King stepped into the spot. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker felt King would be a safety during his recruitment.

Lomax ended up missing several games with his bum hamstring. King excelled and remained the starter for the rest of the season.

Lomax worked out at safety during bowl preparations. Spring practice broke with him as the No. 1 free safety and King the starter at corner. The spot opposite him is being contested by Sean Draper, Maurice Fleming and Greg Mabin. There's sanity in the musical chairs.

"Things are coming along," veteran strong safety Johnny Lowdermilk said of the secondary. "Spring ball, we made some moves there. I think we're putting the pieces into place to be ready for camp."

Lomax is looking to replace Tanner Miller, a three-year starter at free safety. Draper, Fleming and Mabin hope to step in for B.J. Lowery, a starter the last two seasons and first-team all-Big Ten pick a year ago.

"Lomax has come in and done a great job," Lowdermilk said. "I think he can fill Tanner's role pretty well. He's a smart, physical player. He's extremely athletic. And we have good competition at corner with Draper, Mabin and Reese Fleming."

Lowdermilk sees parallels between Miller and Lomax.

"I'd say they're similar players. Tanner was extremely smart. He was in the film room all of the time. He picked up on little things and he really helped bring me along showing me what offenses give away. I would say Lomax is similar in that aspect. He's extremely smart. I feel like it's kind of my job to help him out a little bit kind of like Tanner helped me out," Lowdermilk said.

Lowdermilk said he and the rest of there secondary also wants to assist in the transition of three new starters at linebacker.

"We need to get the calls through and be loud and vocal just so they're not confused on what's going on. They'll be fine. Q (Quinton Alston) will be fine. He's a veteran. He's basically like a returning starter. He's been out there. He's been in the action. He's a smart kid, too, and I think they'll be fine," Lowdermilk said.

Let's take a closer look at Iowa's defensive back position heading into '14:

Contenders: Malik Rucker (6-0, 175), redshirt freshman; Sean Draper (6-0, 190), true junior; Anthony Gair (6-2, 200), redshirt sophomore; Greg Mabin (6-2, 195), redshirt sophomore; Desmond King (5-11, 190), true sophomore; Jordan Lomax (5-10, 200), redshirt junior; Maurice Fleming (6-0, 200), redshirt sophomore; Solomon Warfield (6-0, 180), redshirt freshman; Johnny Lowdermilk (6-2, 210), true senior; Miles Taylor (6-0, 185), true freshman; Jalen Embry (5-11, 180), true freshman; Marcel Joly (5-11, 190), true freshman; Joshua Jackson (6-1, 170), true freshman; Omar Truitt (5-11, 180), true freshman.

The Favorites: Lowdermilk and King are locks barring injury. Lomax looks like the heavy favorite at free safety. Draper, Fleming and Mabin appear to be in a dead heat heading into camp.

Breakdown: Some times the chicken-and-the-egg puzzle pops up on the football field. It's a team game where the parts connect.

On defense, a strong pass rush can aid a shaky secondary. Conversely, standouts in the back end can mask moderate pressure on the quarterback.

For Iowa during the last two seasons, criticism has been levied at both units. In truth, both areas have experienced breakdowns.

With two new starters in the defensive backfield, critics might view it as addition by subtraction. Whipping boy Tanner Miller is gone.

Miller is not above reproach, but there's an unknown with Lomax and whomever wins the open corner spot. And, it remains to be seen if the pass rush improves or if the three new linebackers experience breakdowns.

The good news is that Lomax earned a starting spot at cornerback as a redshirt sophomore before being injured. He played as a true freshman on nickel and dime packages and possesses the pedigree to justify reasonable expectations.

Lowdermilk (78 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 INT) understands the game and the defense, having played both safety spots. He'll be able to help break in Lomax and serve as a leader in the secondary. He's a sure tackler.

King (69 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 8 passes defended, 8 passes broken up) played beyond his years as a freshman. He can push up tight, understands zone and wraps well. He could be one of the best to play the position in the Kirk Ferentz era.

Parker praised Mabin in the spring as a player making a move up the depth chart. The Florida native has had a seamless transition from wide receiver.

Draper played in nickel and dime situations last season and impressed coaches during bowl prep. Fleming was considered for playing time as a true freshman before being slowed by injuries the last two years.

Anthony Gair has been in the mix at safety for the last year. He'll attempt to push Lomax in camp.

Like linebacker, defensive back is a position that could see true freshmen receive playing time. Miles Taylor, Joshua Jackson and Omar Truitt could find themselves contributing on special teams, at the least.

There's depth and athleticism here. We'll see how the DBs perform and gel with the front seven.

RWI (Rob Worry Index): Moderate (other choices are Extreme, Significant, Faint and Absent).

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