National Signing Day 2011: Iowa Top Positional Needs for 2011
With the graduation of 26 seniors this season and the departure of All-Big Ten safety Tyler Sash to the NFL, Iowa will be in rebuilding mode in 2011.
This year's senior class was one of the most decorated classes in Iowa history, recording three bowl wins and finishing two seasons ranked in the top 25.
Because so many multiple-year starters are leaving, there will be plenty of new faces on the field for the Hawkeyes and a lot of inexperience on both sides of the ball.
Expect some of the position needs to be filled by incoming recruits before the 2011 season comes to a close. Here are the positions that Iowa most needs to fill in 2011.
Heading into 2010, Iowa's defensive line was supposed to be one of the best in the country. It returned All-American defensive end Adrian Clayborn, defensive tackle Christian Ballard, defensive tackle Karl Klug and defensive end Broderick Binns.
However, the rotation bounced around more than expected last season, including Mike Daniels, who won a starting job by the end of the season.
Many fans and writers criticized the line for underachieving last season, but regardless, will lose loads of talent with the departures of Clayborn, Ballard and Klug. That leaves the outlook for next season unclear.
Binns, Daniels, and Lebron Daniel, who received playing time this year as well, should all have starting jobs locked up. However, the last starting spot and backup roles are unclear.
Right now, the 2011 recruiting class doesn't seem to hold the answer for next year's line.
Iowa has only two verbal commitments from defensive linemen Riley McMinn and John Raymon, who both have tremendous upsides, but will need to put on some weight before being ready to compete in the Big Ten.
The Hawkeyes are a finalist for Darian Cooper, a 4-star defensive tackle from Hyattsville, MD, who could certainly come in and help out right away.
Until National Signing Day, Iowa's defensive line situation will remain a mystery, and even if Cooper commits, he isn't guaranteed a starting spot when the season kicks off. However, he certainly seems to have the tools to help the Hawkeyes complete a young defensive line.
While Iowa returns two quality wide receivers this season in Marvin McNutt and Keenan Davis, the remaining crop of players is fairly unclear.
The Hawkeyes lost all-time wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos this season and also will lose his teammate, Colin Sandeman, who was productive in all four years as a Hawkeye.
With a shallow depth chart, there is a chance that one or more of Iowa's three receiver recruits could make an impact for the Hawkeyes this season.
Three-star recruits Marcus Grant, Austin Vincent and Jacob Hillyer are all comparable in size and skills and all will likely be given a chance to compete for starting jobs at some point this season.
Grant was the first player to commit to Iowa in its 2011 class and HawkeyeReport's Tom Kakert lists him as a sleeper because of his impressive skill set. He wasn't widely recruited because he committed so early, but has a chance to be a special player down the road, or even as early as next season.
Early in the 2010 offseason, the media often joked with Kirk Ferentz about having nine scholarship running backs on his roster, and Ferentz always replied that you can never have too many running backs.
Boy, was he right.
The Hawkeyes began the season with a trio of solid backs in Brandon Wegher, Jewel Hampton and Adam Robinson. However, Wegher sat out the entire season for personal reasons and announced that he will transfer to Oklahoma. Hampton tore his ACL for the second time against Arizona and announced that he will also transfer.
Robinson was suspended from the Insight Bowl for academic reasons and was eventually kicked off the team after a marijuana arrest the day before the bowl game. He says he will try to win back Ferentz's respect and ask for reinstatement, but nothing is certain.
That left rushing duties in the Insight Bowl to true freshman Marcus Coker. Coker lit up the Missouri defense for 219 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 27-24 win, reminding Hawkeye fans of Shonn Greene in the process.
Coker will likely be Iowa's starter come next August, but the Hawkeyes know nothing is certain when it comes to running backs, and to make the situation more unsettling, Coker was injured during the early part of the 2010 season.
Coker will likely get help next season from at least one of the Hawkeyes' three incoming running back recruits: Rodney Coe, Mika'lil McCall and Torrey Campbell.
Coe, a 4-star recruit from Edwardsville, Illinois, is a similar style back to Coker and Greene and has been described by Scout.com as "a running back in a defensive end's body."
He and Coker could make for a very strong duo at Iowa next season and for seasons to come, if—and that's a big if—they can stay healthy.
After Tyler Sash announced that he would be leaving Iowa a year early to enter the NFL Draft, Iowa suddenly lost virtually all of its safety production over the last three years.
Sash and his counterpart at strong safety, Brett Greenwood, were both three-year starters for the Hawkeyes and were ballhawks for the Iowa secondary.
The preliminary starters are likely to be senior Tom Donatell and sophomore Tanner Miller. However, as nobody has much experience, expect some young players to be in the mix for playing time.
Nicholas Law, a 4-star recruit from Forestville, MD, is the Hawkeyes' only safety recruit in their 2011 class. However, he has the physical tools to receive playing time very early in his career.
At 6'3", 190 pounds, Law arguably has better physical tools than both Sash and Greenwood. He is athletic and boasts a rare combination of size and speed.
While Law certainly won't be able to make up for the void left by Sash and Greenwood, his outstanding physical capabilities give him a real chance to start early in his career at Iowa and make an impact in a young Hawkeye secondary.
Like its problems at running back, Iowa found itself scrounging for linebackers last season due to injuries.
Projected starter Jeff Tarpinian played sparingly because of injury and a number of other linebackers were "dinged"—Ferentz liked to use that term—at some point during the season.
That left starting duties to true freshman James Morris and redshirt freshman Shane DiBona starting during the middle of the season.
Morris was a pleasant surprise at middle linebacker and should earn starting duties next season. DiBona also played well, and he, along with Nielsen, could help fill the void left by the departure of star outside linebacker Jeremiah Hunter.
Because of all the injury problems, the Iowa coaches reeled in a large linebacker class in 2011, currently holding four verbal commitments from Quinton Alston, Cole Fisher, Mike Orloff and Melvin Spears.
While it is unlikely that any of the current recruits will start early next season, injuries could change the situation very quickly, and Ferentz showed last season that he is not afraid to play true freshman.
Alston was widely recruited in high school and right now may have the best chance of starting as a freshman. He has great speed and Scout.com calls him "and aggressive tackler" and a "student of the game."
Those are traits that some of Iowa's best linebackers, such as Pat Angerer, have possessed and that is exactly what Ferentz looks for in a linebacker.
While Iowa's linebacker situation looks stable right now, the Hawkeyes have learned that the tables can turn very quickly. And if 2011's injury situation looks anything like 2010, expect to see some young faces starting at Kinnick next season.