When last season ended, a big question was who would replace Cole Fisher at the weak side linebacker spot. Former Iowa linebackers coach and current Boston College defensive coordinator, Jim Reid, raved about the athletic ability and the pure strength of now sophomore linebacker, Aaron Mends.
Mends primarily did his dirty work on special teams last season, recording four total tackles and one sack in his freshman campaign. The sack came in the Big Ten Championship game against the Michigan State Spartans.
As he enters his sophomore season, he is in a battle with junior Bo Bower for the weak side linebacker position. Iowa returns Josey Jewell in the middle and Ben Niemann on the outside, so the only question is who will start at WLB.
Right now, I believe it's Mends, but Bower has been performing well in fall camp and could pass Mends and become the starter at the third linebacker spot. Iowa is lucky to have so much talent at that position. By my count, they have five guys that could really play at a high level this fall. Jewell, Niemann, Mends, Bower, and Jack Hockaday.
The one thing that worries me about this Mends pick is that he may not get the reps he needs or deserves to actually become a breakout player. That isn't a knock on him or his teammates, it's more of a compliment because Iowa is that good at the position.
But I'm sticking with it for a couple of reasons.
One, he's a freak athlete and it seems like those kids always find their way on the field. Two, when coaches rave about a kid, it usually means he's headed towards taking more meaningful snaps.
I originally had Mends very high on this list, but when Bower started to rise up the depth chart a bit, I had to drop Mends slightly, but I still think he's going to impact the defense in a positive way this season.
Outside of Mends, this is going to help the defense a lot. Having five linebackers that can come on the field and perform at a high level will pay dividends in the long run. If guys are able to come off the field and get a breather for a few plays and the defense still plays at a high level that will keep them fresh for not only the entire game into the fourth quarter, but late in Iowa's schedule when things start to get more difficult.
If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that Mends starts the year, but Bower will be close behind. Both should still play a significant amount of snaps. They've both played well this fall and I believe the staff will see what they have in both of them when the season begins. Mends will most likely start, but Bower could see more snaps mostly because he has the most experience of the duo.
There may be a slight log jam at the linebacker position for the fall, but Aaron Mends will find his way onto the field somehow, someway.