Iowa is a program known for getting the most out of its players, even the ones that do not arrive with a ton of accolades or highly decorated. They always seem to net a few surprises on each side of the ball during each season. Last year, defensively, a few of the surprises were Cole Fisher and Parker Hesse. Derek Young of Hawkeye Insider dives in to see who it could be for the upcoming year.
1. BRANDON SNYDER
The in-state free safety is a walk-on from West Lyon High School in Inwood. He played a significant amount last season as a special teams contributor and was also the first one off the bench amongst the safeties, along with senior Anthony Gair. Gair has been with the program for a number of years now and his career has been shaped by his impact on special teams and being able to step in at a moment's notice as well. However, it will be Snyder getting the nod as the starter for this year, not Gair. Gair may be the scholarship player but Snyder has showed more to date and has been sharp for a couple of years now. He's also impressed in the limited practice action we have seen.
If you want to know who will emerge from the rubble this season, Snyder is a safe bet. He's fully capable of being an impact player, maybe not a star, and he has the help in the secondary to assist him with experienced players such as Desmond King, Miles Taylor, Greg Mabin, and even now Josh Jackson.
Snyder takes over the reins once owned by Jordan Lomax and will make the defensive calls in the secondary. But he won't be doing it alone with all that returning help. Expect Snyder to win over the coaches even more throughout the summer and fall camp and be awarded a scholarship on top of a starting spot in the opener against Miami (Ohio). And as is the case with the other neat walk-on stories at Iowa, it probably won't end there. He could be more than just another name and number out there. He's someone folks will enjoy watching and opponents will remember.
2. ANTHONY NELSON
The starting defensive ends may be Matt Nelson and Parker Hesse but Anthony should garner a decent amount of playing time as well according to the coaches' comments throughout spring football. He has won them over as a pass rusher and that swings a heavy stick for the Hawkeyes this season as that is the one trait they are searching for when it comes to their front seven. They know they have a lot of nice and shiny pieces in about every level on that side of the ball, but they do lack some quick players on the edge that can get to the quarterback. They lost Drew Ott and Nate Meier, their two best pass rushers. When Ott was out last season, they had to organically manufacture pass rushes and that even sometimes was a challenge.
In steps Anthony Nelson who has been lauded for his pass rushing ability and you can see how it may be tough to keep him off the field. That's the one thing they need, and it seems to be his specialty.
Overall, Parker Hesse and Matt Nelson clearly have a leg up. Hesse was a valuable asset a year ago and is someone that doesn't make mistakes and gives you full effort on every play and has a knack for coming up with the play they need at the right time. Matt Nelson has a lot of size and tools characteristic of a typical Iowa defensive end along the lines of ones they've sent to the professional level. Anthony Nelson's rise is a welcome surprise already. Having three defensive ends the staff can count on is a necessity. They'd probably like to have four.
So how do they split up the reps. I think a realistic scenario is that Anthony Nelson could see some action on a lot of third downs and when they go to the 'raider package'. Either Anthony or Matt Nelson could slide inside to get even more pass rushers on the field. They typically like to remove Jaleel Johnson and/or Nathan Bazata in that scheme anyways.
In some way or fashion, Nelson will see the field and he brings skills and tools that are of the utmost importance headed into this season.