With the departures of Drew Ott and Nate Meier at defensive, there's obvious holes to fill and some production that will need to be compensated. Ott and Meier were multiple-year starters that meant a lot to the Hawkeye program for a few years. It's not just as simple as replacing them. Those are some tough contributions to duplicate. There's a lot to prove but the experience inside could assist them in their development.
Though they have a lot to prove, there is good amount of potential that exists in addition to leaders and sure-fire production in Nathan Bazata and Jaleel Johnson. Faith Ekakitie also played in meaningful stretches. Parker Hesse got on the field more than expected with Ott's health keeping him from producing and competing the way he would have liked. That's four, with one of them never starting a game and another just filling in for another regular contributor.
The Hawkeyes played six or seven along the defensive line a year ago typically, but that came at a cost as a few wore down later in the season, especially Jaleel Johnson. Defensive line coach Reese Morgan knows that is something that will need to be rectified.
"We would love to play eight guys," Morgan said of his position group. "Last year we played six. We played six guys, and, you know, the year before we probably played six. But you want your best players on the field and the only way for them to demonstrate they can successfully do it is in a practice situation. So they have to go out and practice and be able to do what you're asking them to do in a practice on a consistent basis and the trust has to be earned. I think we've got some guys that have played a little bit, and hopefully we can develop some depth."
Morgan shared his thoughts on many of his defensive linemen, showing that there's a lot of work left to do, but there does lie some potential to emerge.
On Parker Hesse: "The great thing about Parker Hesse has to do with what his parents did with him when he was a young man. They did a great job of instilling values in him. He's a great competitor. He's very tough. He is very detailed, very intelligent. He has a lot of pride. Plus he has got some ability, he was a high school quarterback as many of you know. Played all over the field, but he hates to lose. It was very competitive. He had a chance to go out and he had some help, Drew was helping to give him advice and help him out during the course of the season, but you know, he's out there right now and he's getting better but it's a work in progress. He is a redshirt sophomore, so that's not a lot of experience, especially in the line position."
On Anthony Nelson: "Anthony Nelson is a freshman. This is his first spring he's been on campus, eight and a half months, excellent student, really has an upside, athletic, a little bit of a burst. His dad was a great defensive lineman here at the University of Iowa and he's off to a pretty good start. He's just learning things. He's very good in the pass rush game, he's got to get better at the point of attack and so forth. He's working with the second group."
On Jaleel Johnson: "Jaleel is an excellent player and he has great ability and if Jaleel was up here right now he would say, I have a lot of work to do to get better. The good thing about it is he's playing with a lot of energy. He's playing hard. He's playing fast. He's our most experienced defensive lineman an he's got a chance to be good. That being said, he has so much to get better at and the run and the pass, there's so much going on."
On Nathan Bazata: "He's solid and tough. He had a whole years of experience. He was a rookie last year, so Nate has an opportunity to be a leader for us. He grades out probably higher than anybody in our defensive line, so he's doing his job. He's a blue-collar guy. He's that guy that goes hard. He's a good student, good kid, tough, leader, highly respected, and the thing our guys respect are three things. Number one, if you're a hard worker, number two, if you're tough physically and mentally, and number three, if you care about people and help people."
On Faith Ekakitie: "Faith came on probably the last three games of the year. Faith probably played his best football of his career towards the end of the year. So those three guys (Jaleel, Bazata, Faith) are getting some reps."
On Jake Hulett: "Jake is a non-scholarship player from Springville, Iowa, that just gets better and better and better. I don't know what it is about 8-man football and the defensive line but they always seem to gravitate toward us."
On Matt Nelson: "Matt is really starting to come on. You saw him in the bowl game and in the Big Ten Championship. He played some valuable reps and provided us with some depth. He's a very smart kid. He's a perfectionist so we have to kind of get a little bit of Nate Meier in him, go in and go hard. If you make a mistake that's okay once in a while but just go. He's off to a good start right now. He has height and we use it to his advantage. The things he does well and he should do well is knock down passes. And he has great length so he can have great leverage and he's really using that well. People would think a guy that's 6-foot-8 would not be able to get low and he probably has the best consistent pad level of anybody in the front including the shorter guys. There is no question. He's really worked at it. He understands it, and he has things that he has to get better at but I think the tempo that he's practicing at is all headed in the right direction.
On Incoming Freshmen: "It's too early to tell (if any will play right away) which is the obvious thing. It's hard to come in as a defensive lineman. However, the situation is unique. We're experienced inside. We're younger on the outside, so we're going to need some depth. I think there are a couple of guys, one, maybe two guys that I think might have an opportunity to possibly be in that two-deep, you know, but you never know. We've got 14 guys out there right now and our goal as coaches to make each and every one of them the best player they can be by providing positive feedback, doing a great job of teaching, letting them understand the defense and teaching the technique and fundamentals. So it's ambiguous, but you know, we'll see."
On Michael Slater: "Michael is a talented kid, good kid, really talented. He got off to a tough start and he's working his way back in. He's got a lot of ability, really like him and he's going to continue to grow, you know, as a college student-athlete."