Previously, I broke down who I feel will be on the 2011 Hawkeyes offensive depth chart when the Iowa football program suits up September 3, to take on Tennessee Tech.
Here, I'll look at each defensive position two players deep, as this side of the ball is much more intriguing than the offense.
As previously mentioned, at first glance, it looks reminiscent of 2008, in that the Hawkeyes might rotate players for a few games until the coaches feel they find the right fit.
I think that will be the case with two of the positions on defense.
I also think the defensive line will rotate a bit more than the Hawkeyes usually do. I'm not saying they'll regularly rotate 12 men, but, outside of Mike Daniels, five players will regularly get subbed in and out as the situation demands.
Only 55 more days, Iowa fans.
DE: Broderick Binns (Sr.)
No. 2: Dominic Alvis (So.)
DT: Mike Daniels (Sr.)
No. 2: Carl Davis (Redshirt Fr.)
DT: Steve Bigach (Jr.)
No. 2: Thomas Nardo (Sr.)
DE: Lebron Daniel (Sr.)
No. 2: Joe Forgy (Sr.)
Iowa graduated three two-plus-year starters from last year's line. While there is unquestionably a talent drop-off, the cupboard is far from bare.
Mike Daniels is the only top-tier returning talent, and he will anchor this line. At times last season, he and Karl Klug were the two best Hawkeyes linemen on the field. Daniels will probably play the vast majority of snaps with minimal (if any) substitutions.
Broderick Binns is the other returning player with substantial experience. Though he officially lost his starting job last season, he got plenty of playing time and did start five games. Of course, as with much of the rest of the line, he disappeared at times.
In 2009, he had 5.5 sacks, 9.5 TFL and nine passes defended. In 2010, he had no sacks, one TFL and two passes defended. He will need to turn it back up next season.
Lebron Daniel will be a new starter, but he got a good amount of quality playing time last year, and, as a senior, he knows what is expected of him.
The other inside position will be a three-man competition between Bigach, Davis and Nardo. Despite missing spring practices with an injury, my money is on Bigach.
Also, Dominic Alvis and 295-lb. Carl Davis will be worked into the rotation. Look for Davis to plug up the middle on obvious rushing downs.
WLB: Christian Kirksey (So.) or Anthony Hitchens (So.)
No. 2: Shane DiBona (So.)
MLB: James Morris (So.)
No. 2: Bruce Davis (Sr.)
SLB: Tyler Nielsen (Sr.)
No. 2: Shane DiBona (So.)
Last year's plague of injuries to the linebacker position opened up opportunities for a number of younger players. This season, we will see the silver lining to last year's gray cloud.
The most notable is James Morris, who began 2010 strictly as a special teams player, but started Iowa's final six games. He will be the starting middle linebacker and, by the end of his career, he could surpass Pat Angerer and Abdul Hodge as the best MLB Iowa has fielded under Ferentz.
At strongside linebacker, Tyler Nielsen started the first eight games in 2010, before a neck injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. He is back and 100 percent.
The weakside linebacker position is the only one that is likely to have any stiff competition. Kirksey is a speedster that is the right fit in this world of spread offenses. Shane DiBona is more traditional and likely too slow to cover most slot receivers at this level. Finally, Anthony Hitchens is right in the middle.
My guess is that the season opens up with an "or" situation like 2008, with Pat Angerer and Jacody Coleman. The starter in the Iowa State game will have won the job.
As for other situational linebackers, the player that doesn't ultimately win the starting WLB job will come in for 3-4 alignments in obvious passing downs. He will also come in as the hybrid linebacker-safety in Iowa's 4-2-5 alignment, as well as the backup WLB or SLB.
Finally, Davis would replace Morris in case of injury.
CB: Shaun Prater (Sr.)
No. 2: Jordan Lomax (True Fr.)
SS: Jordan Bernstine (Sr.) or Colin Sleeper (Jr.)
No. 2: Nico Law (True Fr.)
FS: Micah Hyde (Jr.)
No. 2: Tanner Miller (So.)
CB: B.J. Lowery (So.)
No. 2: Greg Castillo (Jr.)
Shaun Prater will vie for All-American honors out of the first cornerback spot.
Meanwhile, Micah Hyde will move from cornerback to free safety, which is a much more appropriate position for his body type and skill set. Once he gets the audible calling down, he should flourish.
The other cornerback spot is between B.J. Lowery and Greg Castillo, with Jordan Bernstine as another possibility. Lowery has more of an upside, but Castillo, who has started two games, is a safer bet, and Hawkeyes fans know how Ferentz prefers safe bets. Still, I think he will go with Lowery, making Castillo the third cornerback and the first one off the bench in any situation.
The strong safety position will be similar to the WLB; the season will begin with an "or" situation, with both Bernstine and Sleeper logging notable minutes. The one that starts against Iowa State will maintain the starting position for the remainder of the season.
Also, while I put true freshman Jordan Lomax on the depth chart here, I wouldn't be surprised if true freshman Jordan Canzeri is there instead. It will depend upon whether the coaches like Canzeri as a cornerback or running back. Still, I have Canzeri penciled in as the kick return man, and I don't see a redshirt for him any which way.
Lastly, Tanner Miller will be the first safety off the bench.
Starter: Eric Guthrie (Sr.)
No. 2: Jonny Mullings (Redshirt Fr.)
Guthrie was one of the surprises of spring practices, as he was clearly the better punter, despite the hype that preceded the 24-year-old Australian, Mullings.
Mullings might have the strongest leg on the team, but until he can learn to get his punt off quickly like a football player (as opposed to a rugby player), he will be of little use to the Hawkeyes.
Meanwhile, Guthrie is unlikely to make Iowa fans forget about erstwhile punter Ryan Donahue, but he should be serviceable. Of course, more-than-serviceable would help out a defense that lost a lot of players to graduation.
Either way, as Guthrie is one-and-done, and Iowa has offered and received a commitment from a scholarship kicker in the 2012 class, one has to wonder if Kirk Ferentz feels Mullings has any future in American football.
Starter: Kevonte Martin-Manley (Redshirt Fr.)
No. 2: Micah Hyde (Jr.)
The Iowa punt returner for the last two years has been either Colin Sandeman or Paul Chaney Jr. Before that, Andy Brodell fielded punts for three years. Before that, Ed Hinkel was the man. Before that, Ramon Ochoa. Noticing a trend?
That's right. If you return punts on a Kirk Ferentz team, then the odds are pretty good that you're a receiver.
As previously mentioned with the kick returners, the two starting receivers—Marvin McNutt and Keenan Davis—are too indispensable to risk in punt return duties.
That leaves the backup receivers: Kevonte-Martin Manley, Don Shumpert, Jordan Cotton, walk-ons and true freshmen.
I don't see Ferentz trusting a true freshman, and I don't think any of the walk-ons have the ability.
Between the other three, my money is on Manley.
He is an ideal slot receiver, which means he's good in space. He also had return experience in high school.
Given that Ferentz values dependability in a punt returner more than explosiveness, if Manley can prove he won't put the ball on the ground, then he will be the man.