April 2, 2008

Spring Preview: Defensive Line

Coach Rick Kaczenski enters his second season as Iowa's Defensive Line Coach looking to replace two starters, but probably very happy that he has Mitch King and Matt Kroul back for another year in the middle. We take an early look at the defensive line for the Hawkeyes, who will contend for the open starting spots, and what players could emerge this spring.

THE FACTS

Position Coach: Rick Kaczenski

Starters Lost: (2) Bryan Mattison and Kenny Iwebema

Starters Returning: (2) Mitch King and Matt Kroul

Spring Two Deep: DE: Adrian Clayborn (SO), Chad Geary (JR)
DT: Matt Kroul (SR), Karl Klug (SO) or Anton Narinskiy (SR)
DT: Mitch King (SR), Cody Hundertmark (SO) or Mike Daniels (FR)
DE: Christian Ballard (SO), Lebron Daniel (FR) or Brodrick Binns (FR)

THE ANALYSIS

On paper the defensive line should be a strong suit for the Hawkeyes with plenty of depth and talent. Two factors that face Iowa are that they have several young players being counted on to produce on the defensive line and, as usual, the Hawkeyes lack bulk in the middle.

The lack of size really hasn't been a factor for the four year firm of Mitch King and Matt Kroul in the middle of the line. The hardworking duo make up for the lack of girth with high motors and instincts. The duo will not only be counted on to lead the defensive line, but the unit as a whole as seniors.

King has battled injuries at times, but has proven to be Iowa's most explosive player in the middle of the line and earned first team All Big Ten honors by the coaches last year. Kroul has been the steady and solid player in the center of the line, starting 37 straight contests and earning honorable mention all conference honors.

During last season, Coach Kaczenski made a concerted effort to play more bodies up front after it was apparent that the front four was showing signs of wearing down a bit in the second halves of games and young players like Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard saw significant playing time. Both Clayborn and Ballard made the most of their opportunities combining for 35 tackles and 4.5 sacks. They showed good burst off the edge and plenty of promise for the future during the second half of the season. This will be a big spring for both players as they look to cement their positions in the starting lineup.

Backing up King and Kroul in the middle will be three players who saw limited action and a redshirt freshman who hopes to earn playing time this fall. Last season, Cody Hundertmark saw some action, mainly in goal line situations. Hundertmark continues to add bulk to his frame and will help spell the defensive tackle duo. Anton Narinskiy also saw limited action in 2007 after finally finding a home up front and is one of the brightest players on the Iowa team. Karl Klug caught the coaches' eyes in camp last year, but was sidelined for much of the season due to injury and appeared in only one game. Also expected to be in the mix is Mike Daniels, who hopes to break into the rotation this fall.

At the end position, Iowa will look to Chad Geary to provide depth. Geary saw action in over half of Iowa's games last year and has continued to bulk up his frame after a move from linebacker. Backing up Ballard will be a talented duo of redshirt freshmen in Lebron Daniel and Brodrick Binns. Both players are still adding weight to their frames, but they are also explosive athletes coming off the edge that could help the Hawkeyes in 2008.

The key this spring for the Hawkeye defensive line is to see where the young guys are headed in terms of their development. King and Kroul are known commodities and are basically assured of being starters. There isn't much doubt that Clayborn and Ballard are the odds on favorites at end and it would be a real surprise if they aren't there at the end of spring ball. But, Hawkeye fans will be curious how the redshirt freshmen players like Binns, Daniel, and Daniels are moving along in their development and how much bulk they have added to their frames.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Steve Bigach - 6-3 and 220 pounds from Cleveland, OH
Joe Gaglione - 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds from Novelty, OH
Riley Rieff - 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds from Parkston, SD
Jason Semmes - 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds from Clarkston, MI


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