WHAT EXCITES US
1.) THE SECONDARY
Everyone loses Desmond King as they should. He's the defending Jim Thorpe Award winner. Because of his success last year, Greg Mabin was challenged more. He received some ire and criticism from some Iowa fans but I disagreed. I thought he had a fine season and when you get challenged as much as he did, you're bound to lose a few battles. Mabin was excellent for the majority and was even playing at much less than 100 percent. Folks can knock him all they want but he can play for me any time. Miles Taylor should be better with another year under his belt and I really don't think Brandon Snyder will be much of a drop-off, if any, from Jordan Lomax. This is a very skilled group with Josh Jackson also strengthening the unit as a whole.
2.) STAR POWER
There's a lot of stars and future NFL picks on this defense. That doesn't mean they'll be perfect or that they won't have a few bad games, but it does mean there's enough playmakers on the field to be able to pull him out of a hole at any point. That's what stars do and this defense has them in Desmond King, Jaleel Johnson, and Josey Jewell. And by the end of the year a few more could be added to the list in Ben Niemann and Greg Mabin.
3.) MULTI-DIMENSIONAL AND VERSATILE
They're obviously going to be exceptional against the pass with Desmond King and Greg Mabin on the islands, and Josh Jackson in coverage as well. Even if the pass rush is up to snuff, those corners should allow for them to have a bit more time to get after the quarterback. Their jobs could be a little tougher because of that but I don't think it's anything they won't be up to the task for. Plus Mends and Niemann are great edge rushers too from the linebacker spot. They can manufacture a rush that way if necessary. But this is also a defense just as good against the run, because of players like Jaleel Johnson, Nathan Bazata, and Josey Jewell. There isn't one facet on the Iowa defense that you can expose in terms of run and pass.
WHAT CONCERNS US
1.) THE PASS RUSH
This will be the defensive storyline of fall camp and throughout the season. I don't think they'll be able to generate enough of a pass rush with the defensive ends they are set to deploy this season. Parker Hesse is a good, steady player but not a pure pass rusher. He's a sound, fundamental, and smart player that doesn't make mistakes but won't light it up in this area. Matt Nelson and Anthony Nelson are still very young and inexperienced. They'll get better as the season goes on but that's a lot to ask from first-year contributors. I think they'll have to sacrifice some space in the second and third levels and manufacture a rush by sending Niemann, Mends, Jackson, and King off the edges more than they'd like. This is definitely something to watch this Fall.
There's no way around it, the defense did wear down last year as the season went on. They return a lot of starters but they'll have to remedy that this year so that they can click on all cylinders for the majority of the season. That involves lessening the snap counts for some of the players. Will they able to do that? That will rely heavily on the production of Faith Ekakitie and Anthony Nelson on the defensive line and just those two won't be enough. They need more bodies to emerge, even if it happens to be freshmen such as Cedrick Lattimore. I think the depth is there at linebacker with Bo Bower who can probably play all three linebacker spots. Having Jack Hockaday continue to make strides and develop will be key. In the secondary, they'll need another guy other than Josh Jackson. Michael Ojemudia will get the first shot. He passed the first test in the Spring but now he has to do it on Saturdays. Safety is a concern and I'm not sure they even know who could give them a few snaps after Taylor and Snyder.
3.) DISCIPLINE ON THE EDGE
I did say there isn't one facet of the game that you can attack the Iowa defense but there may be one area. There will be some fresh faces on the edge such as Anthony Nelson, Matt Nelson, and Aaron Mends. That's a good amount of youth and inexperience. Attacking them and making them think on the edge and react quickly could prove to be a winning strategy for opposing offenses. Those three have the potential and are more than athletic enough to get the job done but they will surely be challenged and they'll have to prove it first.