Miller: Impact Seniors & Aggressive Defense

Which one of three Iowa's seniors is poised to have a breakout year? Will Iowa's defense take more chances this year? Those are two solid questions posed to HN Publisher Jon Miller recently by one of our users. Jon weighs in with his thoughts on those two topics, and more

One of our site subscribers recently emailed me and asked me a few questions that I felt were interesting discussion pieces.

Q: Who has the bigger senior year, if healthy: Tony Moeaki, Trey Stross or Dan Doering?

The reason I felt it was interesting is that these three share a lot in common. They have all been injured more than once in their careers, they were all three US Army All Americans in the recruiting Class of 2005, and all three of them have yet to fill into the shoes of ‘promise' that so many people expected of them.

That final point has nothing to do with their wishes or intent, those were accolades placed on them from outside sources, but they were there nonetheless.

All three of them appears healthy heading into their final year on campus, each plays a different position and each appears poised to have a shot at a ‘one year pays for all' contribution in 2009.

Given Iowa's offense, I think Tony Moeaki has a chance to have the best season. Iowa loves its tight ends, and Moeaki has mad skills, but hasn't been able to avoid the injury bug. He is a physical specimen, has been since the day he set foot on campus, so it was odd to learn he wore a red jersey during Iowa's Saturday scrimmage. That meant ‘hands off', a jersey typically reserved for quarterbacks or veteran running backs.

One could also make a case for Stross, a player that has shown flash, good hands in the clutch and he has very good athletic ability. Andy Brodell is gone and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos is listed down the depth chart, so Stross had every opportunity to win a starting job and be a key contributor this year. However, I think Keenan Davis is going to see significant reps this year, and before all is said and done DJK is going to be in that mix too, along with Marvin McNutt. This might be the most competition Stross has faced in his years on campus for playing time, and he is a fifth year senior.

Iowa has seen some early attrition along the offensive line, which is giving Dan Doering a great opportunity to see a number of reps in practice. He is working with the ones and should be a starter come September 5th. Once Julian Vandervelde returns from his injury, it will be up to Dan to keep that playing time. Can he outplay Dace Richardson, another guard in the mix for starting reps? That's going to be up to Dan.

The good news is that each player appears poised to play his best football in his final year on campus, something that the successful Iowa teams have had happen for them in the Kirk Ferentz era.

Another question that I found to be quite interesting was this: Will Iowa take more risks, be more aggressive on defense this year, given the nature of their personnel?

I have felt we could see that, because Iowa's pass rush this year could be very good. I also wondered if we might not see that due to the graduation of Mitch King and Matt Kroul on the defensive interior.

Iowa's personnel this year is the main reason. Broderick Binns has the potential to be Iowa's best pure passer rusher of the Ferentz era. That's my opinion, and we have only seen him in split duties last year. However, he was disruptive and raw. I believe he will be disruptive and seasoned this year. Ferentz said on Saturday that Christian Ballard had been putting in quite a bit of work inside thus far, a move that is not surprising.

Binns has shown so much ability that either Ballard or Adrian Clayborn was likely going to move inside some this year in order to have your three best defensive linemen on the field at the same time.

As for Iowa taking more risks, it's going to depend on the ability of their front four to control the running game. That's been a staple of Norm Parker's defenses. If they can control the running game with just four and an inside linebacker, there isn't much reason to take a lot of risks and leave cornerbacks isolated one on one, especially with the injury to Jordan Bernstine.

However, the league knows about Amari Speivey and that is going to help narrow the playing field for Iowa's defense. Iowa hasn't been a big safety blitz unit under Parker, so if they get more aggressive, it will be with linebacker blitzes.

The success of those blitzes isn't always a sack result; if you can cause a passer to hurry a throw make it off the mark, that is a success. Getting your backers picked up by blockers and having a veteran quarterback savvy enough to remain in the pocket, that is when you get into trouble.

The good news is that there are fewer teams that possess that kind of signal caller on Iowa's schedule than there are teams with question marks at that position. Iowa State has Austen Arnaud, Penn State has Darryl Clark, UNI has Pat Grace. Arizona will have a quarterback making his first ever road start, Dustin Scherer at Wisconsin didn't light the world on fire last year and his offensive line is unproven in many spots. Michigan might start another freshman quarterback this year, Michigan State will have a new face, Indiana just isn't that good and Northwestern's Mike Kafka has a lot to prove as a passer.

You might not want to flush Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor out of the pocket, because he is more dangerous there; make him beat you in the pocket might be Iowa's philosophy. Minnesota's Adam Weber wilted under Iowa's defensive pressure one year ago, but he didn't have a healthy Eric Decker in that game. However, a healthy Decker might just mean that Minnesota would actually score in that game and Iowa might only hit 40 points.


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