A brand new season is almost upon us as we look forward to the 2015 version of Iowa Hawkeyes football. For the next several days, Hawkeye Insider will be giving a preview of what to watch for, what to expect, and a prediction on performance from each position group on the team.
Today, the linebackers in Iowa City get the spotlight.
It was announced by defensive coordinator Phil Parker on Tuesday, and was further clarified in today's depth chart release, but the starting linebackers for this season will be Josey Jewell in the middle, Cole Fisher as the weakside linebacker, and Ben Niemann as the LEO linebacker. Jewell and Niemann saw a bit of time last year and will shoulder more responsibility this year as sophomores while it will be the first significant action for senior Cole Fisher.
"The linebackers are fitting together with Ben Niemann as the outside linebacker and Josey Jewell on the inside at the Mike linebacker," said defensive coordinator Phil Parker. "Cole Fisher has done a good job in the Spring and in two-a-days. Those will start off as our top three."
It's a nice blend of youth and veterans in the first group. There's not a ton of starting experience, but it's a unit that has played well this Fall.
THE PRIMARY BACKUPS
The main alternative to the starting three will be sophomore Bo Bower, who saw significant time last year. He's actually had an excellent few weeks of practice and was very impressive during the scrimmage at Kids' Day inside Kinnick Stadium. It was actually a surprise to find out that he wouldn't be starting, but it shows how good Fisher has been and gives the Hawkeyes depth at the position.
The other notable linebacker is Aaron Mends. He saw some critical time during the first scrimmage of Fall camp, and has been a guy mentioned by the coaches quite a bit. His development will be an item to watch for throughout the season. He was listed as the backup weakside linebacker on Thursday's depth chart.
"I want to smooth out the edges on defense," Mends explained at Media Day. "I need to stop playing so much like a robot. I want to play faster. I want to make it more natural out there and not so nitty-gritty. It's about being an athlete."
THE REST OF THE BUNCH
I don't expect a whole lot of playing time from this group. The bulk of the playing time should go to Fisher, Jewell, Niemann, Bower, and Mends. Two freshmen that I don't expect to redshirt would be Jack Hockaday and Angelo Garbutt. They should at least have a role in special teams duties.
It's a group without a lot of starting experience, but there is some depth to the core. The Iowa coaching staff has five guys they feel like they can depend on. Even though Bower is listed as a backup now, I expect him to still have a prominent role with the defense. Fisher needs to perform well early and often, because there's quality depth in the rotation behind him.