Aiken Talks Defensive Line, Present and Future

<P>Ron Aiken is making a name for himself as one of the top assistant coaches in the country. In 2002, he was named the American Football Coaches Association Division I Assistant Coach of the Year. He has been instrumental in turning Iowa's defensive line from a group that was manhandled in Kirk Ferentz's first two years at Iowa into a squad that now does the manhandling. Rob Howe recently spoke with Aiken about his star end Matt Roth, as well as some of the yet untested Hawkeye linemen.

Aiken employs a great six or seven man rotation that helps keep his players fresh and pounding the offensive line all game long.

The evidence?

Here is a look at Iowa's rushing yards per game allowed since 1999, the start of the Ferentz era as well as Aiken's first year at Iowa:

1999: 245.3
2000: 194.3
2001: 117.1
2002: 81.9
2003: 92.7

The 2002 total is second best in Iowa history, followed by the 2003 total at third best in school history. The 2002 rush defense ranked fifth best in the nation, while the 2003 total ranked eighth best in the country.

Behind those numbers has been a brand of smash-mouth football and ‘physicality' that has Hawkeye opponents referring to them as the ‘Bullies of the Big Ten'.

It's also a part of the reason why Iowa fans, national pundits and others feel this year's Iowa defense could once again be considered among the nation's best units.

Rob Howe recently spoke with one of the architects of Iowa's steel curtain front line, Ron Aiken, about his star player Matt Roth and some other new names on the front line.

How is Matt Roth different when he crosses the line of scrimmage?

When he crosses the line of scrimmage, he has a different attitude. He really does. He's one of the few guys that can play the run effectively at his body weight and also rush the quarterback effectively.

He looks like he's a mean guy. Is that a plus?

It's a big plus because in our defense our ends will go up against guys that are 310, 320 pounds. And Matt probably weighs in at 265 pounds. So, He gives up a lot as far as body weight is concerned, but plays with a tough, tough attitude.

Is that ever a problem to control?

No, not really. The key thing is that we try to teach them - and we probably do it all of the time- is to play fast, play hard, and play smart. Playing smart means maintaining your composure all of the time; evaluating things and knowing how to react.

Did his time as a LB help him with where he is at now?

It has because what we try to do defensive line-wise is that we've got to recognize backfield sets, recognize formations, and do things based on the different formations and backfield sets. That's a plus for him.

Was it a hard transition?

Let's put it this way - I think the first time that we did it, Matt stayed in the defensive line room for maybe one day. He went back to LB because he said, "Gosh, at linebacker I'm at least 3 to 4 yards off of the ball. As a defensive lineman, I'm 1 to 2 inches from an offensive lineman that weighs 300 pounds.

So, at first, he didn't love it. Then, I think that he saw an opportunity to rush the quarterback, play the run and also drop back into coverage at some times.

So, it wasn't his idea, in other words?

Let's put it this way, we suggested it to him. We said, "Matthew, if that's something you want to do, give it a try."

He came over and said, "Gosh, I'm only 1 to 2 inches away now from the line of scrimmage." Then, he saw Kampman and those guys having fun at it. He said, "You know, I'm going to give it a try again."

Is there a parallel between him and Kampman?

I think as far as the toughness is concerned, yes there is.

Did they adapt similarly?

I don't think that it was tough for either guy. Once you come to realize that you have the opportunity to be on the field, you've got an opportunity to play, then you sit back and say to yourself, "Gosh, I can go over to this other position and sit on the bench or I can have an opportunity to get on the field."

I think both he and Kampman saw that, long-term wise, playing at the next level, which is possible for Matt, that it might be better as a defensive lineman. ---

How would you describe the play of Ken Iwebema and Bryan Mattison?

Both guys are athletic defensive ends. Both guys are hard, tough-nosed guys that really love the ballgame.

Are they similar? Are they different styles?

I would say that Mattison might be a little more of a physical player. Iwebema can be physical and be a finesse guy. Iwebema has a little bit more speed. But both guys are similar type of players.

Are they ready?

There's no question that they'll be ready for the first ballgame. Both guys have really worked hard during the offseason. I think Mattison probably weighs about 265 and Iwebema might be 245.

Help much did the redshirt season help them? What did you in their growth during that period?

I think the key thing that probably happened is that they got an opportunity to learn the system and to learn how we play blocks. And they had great guys in front of them in Howard Hodges and Mat Roth as far as demonstrating to them what needs to be done.

We're just hoping that those guys have learned something and take something from that and apply it to the games.

Was it in the plans to move towards having versatile linemen or did it just happen when you upgraded your athleticism?

This really started with Jonathan Babineaux. It was after the Michigan ballgame two years ago when someone got hurt. On the way coming back we told Babineaux that he would probably have to learn to play defensive tackle. Babineaux stepped in and played some defensive tackle for us.

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