Spring Position Preview: Defensive Line

The play from Iowa's defensive line will be crucial this year, just like it always is. But if they can rise up and play to the level of potential they seem to have, it could mean the difference in a few more ‘W's' in the win column this year. Here is our look at the 2008 defensive line.

The Departed

The Hawkeyes lost a pair of honorable mention all-Big Ten defensive ends and must now establish new names at the position. Gone are Bryan Mattison (37) and Ken Iwebema (30), a pair with 67 career starts between them. Mattison had 171 career tackles, 33 tackles for loss (-170 yds) and 20 sacks. Iwebema had 106 tackles, 20 tackles for loss (-92 yds) and 15 sacks. These two players were great leaders on the team and made significant contributions during their career, so replacing them will be no easy task.

Who's On Campus

A pair of senior ‘all-star' candidates anchor Iowa's defensive line. All-America candidate Mitch King (6-3, 264) and all-Big Ten candidate Matt Kroul (6-3, 277) return as Iowa starters at tackle. Kroul has started 37 straight games and King 32 times during his career. The duo have been mainstays in the Iowa defensive front for the past three years.

King was named to the first all-Big Ten team by the league coaches and Kroul made the honorable mention all-league unit. King has 174 career tackles and 39 tackles for loss (-154 yards). Kroul has 181 career stops with 13 tackles for loss. King is excellent at getting penetration to ‘gum up the works' for opposing running attacks, in addition to getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Kroul has been more of a run stuffer in his career and has more than held his ground on the interior. The pair forms a formidable front to Iowa's defense.

Four players with limited experience back up the two veterans on the inside. Behind Kroul is sophomore Karl Klug (6-4, 235) and senior Anton Narinskiy (6-4, 265). Narinskiy played in six games and had three tackles while Klug appeared in only one contest. Kirk Ferentz has sung Klug's praises in the past, but Karl was hampered with an injury late in camp last August and did not work his way into the mix. He is still undersized at this position, being just 235 pounds.

Backing up King will be sophomore Cody Hundertmark (6-4, 260) and redshirt freshman Mike Daniels (6-1, 240). Hundertmark appeared in six games and had two tackles. Establishing depth at tackle and finding future replacements for King and Kroul are a priority this spring and fall.

Sophomore Adrian Clayborn (6-3, 275) will enter spring drills as the top end on the right side. Clayborn played in all 12 games last year and collected 20 tackles. He also had 2.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. He'll be no stranger to the playing field in 2008, as he showed great promise from the middle of last season to the end.. Pushing Clayborn will be junior Chad Geary (6-3, 261), who played in seven games and collected 11 tackles with two sacks. Both have been biding their time and now have a chance at extensive playing time.

On the other side of the line, sophomore Christian Ballard (6-4, 270) is listed No. 1 at left end. Ballard saw action in 10 games and had 15 tackles. He was also credited with four tackles for loss (-25 yds) and two sacks. Ballard showed a nose for the football when he was in the lineup and has a quick first step and may help put pressure on the quarterback off of the edge.

Listed behind Ballard are redshirt freshmen Lebron Daniel (6-2, 220) and Broderick Binns (6-2, 245). Despite the inexperience factor, Iowa coaches feel the potential is excellent at defensive end. The time is right for any of the aforementioned ends to have a good spring and earn playing time in the fall.

Who's On the Way

Iowa signed a number of defensive line prospects in their last recruiting class.

DL Steve Bigach (6-3, 220), DE Joe Gaglione (6-5, 230), DE Riley Reiff (6-6, 250) and DE Jason Semmes (6-3, 218) all signed letters of intent in February. Reiff has the size to play as a freshmen, where the others might need more time in the weight room. The hope is that all four of these players have the luxury to redshirt this year, unless they turn heads in August and can make an impact on special teams and the two deep roster. Iowa hopes that the players that are on campus this spring will be able to handle the roster spots and playing time. It's a good bet that all four of these players redshirt in 2008.

The 2008 Outlook

After watching Clayborn and Ballard come on strong during the final third of last season, that has given a lot of Iowa fans strong optimism that this year's front four could be very disruptive against both the run and the pass. We know that King is an animal and Kroul stands his ground well.

So you have potentially three of your four defensive linemen that can penetrate beyond the line of scrimmage and wreak some degree of havoc on an opposing offense. Depth is a concern because of uncertainty and inexperience, so this unit will need to stay healthy. If they do and if they live up to expectations, the relatively green linebacker corps will benefit and be more productive.

There is a lot of ‘betting on the come' here when it comes to Iowa's front seven, as four of the seven positions will see new starters this year. But the talent is there and we have seen the promise in glimpses.

If they perform to the affirmative, this could be a very special group. They will have to put pressure on the quarterback while the secondary gets its legs under it in the early going of next season. The good news is that the first three games come against teams that didn't win a whole lot last year, although Iowa State beat Iowa in Ames. This year's game is in Kinnick, however.

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