The defense has really stood out so far in Iowa Hawkeye football practices, but there's still one position group with a bit of uncertainty. They entered fall camp not knowing exactly what to expect from the linebackers, and who would emerge.
The Hawkeyes return two seniors in Cole Fisher and Travis Perry, as well as sophomores Bo Bower, Josey Jewell, and Ben Niemann and that's the five head coach Kirk Ferentz has attached himself to thus far.
"Yeah, I think that's pretty solid," Ferentz said at Iowa's Media Day about the five players they were leaning on at the linebacker spot. "Aaron Mends is a wild card. How quickly he can learn to play in the system, is probably the best way, which is what all young players have to learn. I'd say he's further behind those other five guys, because he hasn't really had experience. I thought all of them played with confidence in the spring and have had good summers, so I think we've got some good competition there."
Despite having a handful of guys to pick from and feeling good about their improvements and emergence, the staff still wasn't sure at the beginning of camp how the rotation would shake out.
"I wouldn't want to predict right now how things are going to go, but I think I'm seeing some good things at that spot", the Hawkeye head coach continued at Media Day. "Certainly we'll be more experienced further down the road than a year ago at this time."
Redshirt freshman Aaron Mends, referred to by Ferentz as the wild card of the group, also has been pleasantly surprised by the group as a whole, and has noticed an uptick in the battles at practice.
"Our freshmen linebackers are even making interceptions at practice," he shared. "That's crazy to see. The competition around here is getting better and better every day."
If the little bit of practice that has been open to the media, or last Saturday's scrimmage are any indications, the first group could be comprised of a trio of sophomores in Bo Bower, Josey Jewell, and Ben Niemann.
According to the head coach, though, the combinations are still being worked out.
"I wouldn't rule it out," Ferentz noted about the possibility of the young group of Bower, Jewell, and Niemann starting together. "I wouldn't rule any combination out, mainly because Travis (Perry) was dinged up in the past week and has fought through that pretty well. He got back on the field quicker than I would have anticipated. He's really been doing a good job. Cole Fisher has done a good job."
Regardless of what combination comes out on the winning side, the Iowa Hawkeye defense should be a very improved unit. An offensive lineman that goes up against that side of the ball regularly in practice agrees.
"I think so (that there's been a big difference from last year)", center Austin Blythe stated. "Guys are more confident. They're more ready. It's just another year of experience."
Check out some video of the Iowa linebackers in action at practice.
Iowa Linebacker Rotation Becoming Clear
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