B1G 40: Can Hawkeyes' defense survive without linebacking trio?

B1G 40: Can Hawkeyes' defense survive without linebacking trio?
June 23, 2014, 10:00 am
Share This Post
Vinnie Duber

As the dog days of summer arrive, the longing for football becomes all the more intense. Well, we here at CSNChicago.com are here to provide you with a summertime football fix. Over 40 days, CSN's Vinnie Duber will have 40 posts pondering the biggest questions heading into the 2014 Big Ten football season — the B1G 40 questions. Be sure to check out the entire B1G 40 series at csnchicago.com/big-ten.

Can the Hawkeyes’ defense survive without the trio of departed linebackers?

There was no better group of linebackers last season in the Big Ten than the triumvirate in Iowa City. James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens were all seniors, much-hyped heading into the season, and they lived up that hype, playing extremely well throughout the year.

Hitchens, Kirksey and Morris combined for 322 tackles in 2013, as well as 35.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, six interceptions and six forced fumbles.

[B1G 40: Will it be a smooth regime change at Penn State?]

But now they’re gone, and that means Kirk Ferentz & Co. will have three new starters at linebacker when the season opens this fall. How, though, can the team be expected to replace those three?

Well, according to Iowa linebackers coach LeVar Woods, there’s no replacing them.

"You don't just replace guys like that," Woods said in a story published in the Quad-City Times in April. "We are looking to fill spots where three outstanding players played, individuals who have outstanding futures in front of them in football and life.”

If you go by the Hawkeyes’ spring depth chart, the guys with the best chances of stepping into the shoes vacated by the Big Three are Travis Perry, Quinton Alston and Reggie Spearman, a junior, senior and sophomore, respectively. They obviously won’t boast the experience that Hitchens, Kirksey and Morris did a year ago.

[B1G 40: What should be expected from Gophers at quarterback?]

But the good news is that there’s help. The three new starters at linebacker will have help from elsewhere on the defense, returning players who part of the defense that ranked third in the conference in scoring defense, allowing an average of just 18.9 points per game. That Iowa defense was second only to other-worldly Michigan State in total defense, allowing 303.1 yards per game.

The defensive line returns all four starters, all of whom are upper classmen. Iowa’s D-line could be the conference’s best with Carl Davis anchoring things in the middle. The secondary also returns a pair of starters from last season, one at safety and one at cornerback.

It’s a monumental task for whichever linebackers end up taking the baton from the three elite ones who spearheaded things for Iowa last season. But whoever those guys may be can go into the season knowing they won’t be doing it alone.