6 Iowa Hawkeyes Who Will Make a Name for Themselves in 2012-13
In 2012, a number of young, inexperienced Hawkeyes will have a chance to show what they can do.
There are many ways to measure it, but according to a recent Phil Steele post, Iowa is tied for the 90th-experienced two-deep in the country.
Based on another set of Steele's criteria, the Hawks rank 101st in the country in percentage of returning lettermen.
According to the spring game depth chart—taking into consideration injuries to seniors that would be starting—Iowa has only seven starting seniors—four on offense and three on defense.
There will be changes to that depth chart before the first game, but make no mistake, this year's team will be young.
What follows are six young players, most of whom haven't earned any starts yet, who will begin to make a name for themselves this year.
B.J. Lowery: Cornerback
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True junior Lowery first appeared on many Hawkeye fans' radars at the end of last year's Michigan contest. On that date, Lowery broke up a would-be touchdown, which was absolutely not, in no way, unequivocally not pass interference.
Actually, it was, but good calls come with the bad.
Either way, Lowery broke up a pass intended for Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree. The pass, if completed, would have put Michigan in a place to go for a two-point conversion and force an overtime.
Instead, Lowery swatted the ball down, preserved the Hawks' 24-16 victory and sealed Iowa's sixth win, thereby insuring bowl eligibility.
This year, with the graduation of Shaun Prater, Lowery will take over a starting position opposite all-conference corner Micah Hyde.
If his spring game performance is any indication, he is set to have a strong year.
ESPN's Adam Rittenberg named Lowery his "star" of the spring game.
Heading into this season, Iowa's defensive line issues have been well-documented, which has led new defensive coordinator Phil Parker (via The Cedar Rapids Gazette) to have his corners play press coverage.
This will be somewhat new for Iowa, which traditionally allows its corners to play a soft cushion.
It is evident how much confidence Parker has in his young cornerback, given that this will be Lowery's first year as a starter.
In 2012, Lowery will make a name for himself, and in 2013, he will be Iowa's next lockdown corner, following in the tradition of Amari Spievey.
Nico Law: Strong Safety
When Nico Law became a Hawkeye, I commented, "he not only has ball-hawking skills, but he likes to hit. A lot."
That was evident from his high school tape, and it is an element of his game that he brought to the college level.
In the accompanying video, he delivered the hit of the game to the running back, Damon Bullock. He'll get an earful for not wrapping the ball-carrier up, but his enthusiasm is the kind of unteachable quality a former Iowa strong safety also brought to the playing field.
Secondary coach Darrell Wilson has said as much (via The Cedar Rapids Gazette): "'Nico is not lacking confidence. We just have to let Nico know that you don’t know everything just yet.'"
Law came out of spring as the starting strong safety, and he is likely to hold onto that spot when the season opens.
He will blow some coverages and make some mistakes, but look for the true sophomore from Maryland to assert himself more as the year progresses.
C.J. Fiedorowicz: Tight End
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Between 2001-2011, the top Iowa tight end averaged 32.8 receptions per year.
Last year, the top Iowa receiving tight end was then-sophomore C.J. Fiedorowicz, who had 16 catches for 167 yards and three touchdowns.
Fiedorowicz wasn't the starter through the first seven games, and wound up getting 14 of his receptions—as well as all of the touchdowns—in the final six contests.
Expect Fiedorowicz to continue to be a top target, especially with the graduation of Hawkeye receiver and inaugural Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year winner, Marvin McNutt.
He will also be featured in new offensive coordinator Greg Davis's offense. Davis said of CJ Fed (via Hawkcentral.com), "I’ve never had a tight end like C.J. with his size and ability to play at the line of scrimmage and also stretch the field."
In 2012, CJ Fed will have at least 40 receptions and will snag all-conference honors.
Darian Cooper: Defensive Tackle
Cooper was a high school teammate of previously-mentioned Nico Law.
He wasn't the most highly touted—in terms of stars—of Iowa's 2011 class, but he he had an impressive offer sheet that included (via Rivals) Clemson, Florida, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin, among others.
He arrived late on campus due to what Kirk Ferentz called (via The Cedar Rapids Gazette) "complications."
He redshirted last year, but he began spring as the first team one-technique—think Matt Kroul and Christian Ballard; not Mitch King and Karl Klug, who played three-technique—defensive tackle.
According to Kirk Ferentz, "When he’s on, he’s on pretty good, but when he has bad plays, it looks bad. That’s part of being young.”
Defensive tackle, along with offensive line, is physically the toughest position for a young, inexperienced player to step into.
In effect, Cooper will get pushed around a good deal this year, but those early brushes with adversity will be the building blocks to an impressive future.
Austin Blythe: Offensive Line
Austin Blythe, along with three other Hawkeyes—one of who never made it campus—was the most decorated of Iowa's 2011 recruits, holding four stars (via Rivals).
Consequently, it shouldn't have been a huge surprise when the red-shirt freshman was named the starting right guard for the spring game.
Yet it was, primarily because he took the starting spot over multiple players with more experience in program, if not game experience.
It remains to be seen if he will hold onto the spot, but as he is also the backup center, it is likely he will be starting next season at the very latest.
Brandon Scherff: Offensive Line
Brandon Scherff came onto the scene last year, his redshirt freshman year.
He started three games at left guard and played extensive minutes in a reserve role.
The results were mixed, but again, physically and mentally, offensive line is one of the toughest positions for a young player to come right in and compete.
This spring, Scherff was tabbed as the starting left tackle, following in the footsteps of past Hawkeyes and first-round NFL draft picks Robert Gallery, Bryan Bulaga and Reilly Reiff—starting his career at guard and moving outside to left tackle.
In truth, Scherff, who is listed at 6'5", 310 pounds, is more likely a guard or right tackle at the pro level. Bulaga (his Iowa profile) and Reiff were listed at 6'6" while in college, though since turning pro, Bulaga has shrunk (his NFL profile) down to 6'5".
In other words, Scherff will also probably "shrink" when he goes pro, but none of that diminishes what should be the beginning of a solid collegiate career at left tackle.
Incidentally, when he came to Iowa, Scherff was listed at 6'6" (per Rivals). Funny how that works.
In 2013, he will earn all-conference honors. In 2012, he will protect quarterback James Vandenberg's weak side and cement his reputation as a road grader.