Iowa Hawkeyes Football: What Does the Loss of Amari Spievey Mean To the Hawks?
There is good news and bad news.
The good news is the Iowa Hawkeyes are as loaded at cornerback as they have been at any point in the Ferentz era.
The bad news is that Iowa's best cornerback—and not so arguably, the best cornerback in the Ferentz Era—has decided to forgo his senior season and declare himself eligible for the NFL draft.
As I said, even without Amari Spievey, Iowa has cornerbacks. This is a long way from 2002, when Ferentz booted incumbent starter Benny Sapp from the team for repeated behavior issues. Due to that, he was forced to start redshirt freshman Jovon Johnson and true freshman Antwan Allen as his cornerbacks that year. And their inexperience was palpable.
Next year, Iowa will have a slew of returning experience at cornerback. Junior Shaun Prater, who was Iowa's other starting cornerback this year, will be returning. While he was not Spievey-like, he was solid. Moreover, he got plenty of experience as everybody threw to his side of the field.
Iowa also has junior Jordan Bernstine coming off a redshirt season that was necessitated by a preseason injury. Bernstine has all the physical qualities you could want in a cornerback. All he lacks is the starting experience.
There will also be two other corners with starting experience—true junior Willie Lowe and redshirt sophomore Greg Castillo—and a true sophomore, Micah Hyde, that gained plenty of special teams experience this year.
So, Iowa can just plug one of the aforementioned candidates into Spievey's spot and reload, right?
The thing about a cornerback, compared to a defensive lineman or linebacker, is that you don't often see what he's doing because he's typically so far from the ball and the line of scrimmage.
Furthermore, if a cornerback is really good, the ball will rarely get thrown to his side of the field or towards the receiver he is covering.
All things considered, a casual observer might think Amari Spievey was quiet this year. He had 56 tackles and two interceptions (both of the latter against Wisconsin). He also had eight passes defended.
These are solid but by no means gaudy numbers.
However, the reality is that all teams not named Wisconsin avoided his side of the field like it was the plague. It is for that reason that his stats were somewhat deflated.
If you want to get a true idea of how effective Spievey was, look at a screenshot of the Iowa defense lining up against an opposing offense.
In that shot, you will see one thing you have not seen with any regularity from a Ferentz cornerback. You will see Spievey lining up right on top of the receiver he was covering, ready to press him right off the snap.
Look at Prater on the other side of the field and you will see a more typical cornerback alignment for Ferentz. Prater is giving up a five to seven yard cushion to the receiver.
Over the duration of Ferentz's tenure, he and defensive coordinator Norm Parker have come under some degree of scrutiny for their "bend-don't-break" defensive philosophy. Part of this philosophy includes having the cornerbacks give a considerable cushion to receivers so as to be assured they don't give up the big play.
However, with Spievey's aggressive play this year, it seems evident that Ferentz and Parker have worked with what they had.
If they had an Amari Spievey to line-up at both cornerback positions every game, then they would have played a tighter man coverage from the very beginning.
What does all of this mean?
It means that for all intents and purposes, when Spievey was on the field, it was tantamount to Iowa playing with 12 men in what has become their normal, cushion-coverage.
The confidence the coaches had in Spievey allowed Norm Parker to let his safeties play centerfield (to the tune of nine interceptions between safeties Greenwood and Sash and backup Joe Conklin) or swing over on top of Prater.
I don't mean to take anything away from the tremendous pass rush of this season's defensive line. However, they had a lot of help from the coverage, led by No. 19, Amari Spievey.
All of this led to the third best pass defense in the country.
Well, there is no getting around it; Spievey is gone. How can we expect this to play out next season?
It means you will probably see a much bigger cushion given by both of Iowa's cornerbacks (unless Prater makes major leaps in the offseason). It means Sash and Greenwood will have to be more be liberal with their safety help.
It means quarterbacks will not automatically avoid one side of field.
It means there will be some long, frustrating drives where it seems like the quarterback is playing catch with his receivers, throwing five yard out route after five yard out route, slowly making his way down the field.
Nevertheless, I think the defensive line play next year is going to be so good that, to some degree it will cancel out any shortcomings of anybody else on the field.
Furthermore, Sash and Greenwood, Iowa's safeties, are proven ball hawks. They will force quarterbacks to avoid throwing it long over the middle.
Finally, as I previously mentioned, it's not as though the cupboard is bare at cornerback.
In short, I think it will be OK. I think Iowa is going to have another top-20 defense next year.
But to think how good they could have been had Spievey stayed. It is almost too painful to think about.
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