It has been years since Iowa football had a dominant defense. Adrian Clayborn, Pat Angerer, Jeremiha Hunter, and Amari Spievey thrived in defensive coordinator Norm Parker’s system as they led the 2009 Hawkeyes to memorable season posting eleven wins to go with an Orange Bowl victory.
2009 feels like decades ago, let alone four years. A lot has changed since the Orange Bowl season. Iowa football’s defense looked vulnerable on the ground in their first year without Parker as they allowed 1,945 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Their struggles versus the run heightened during the Big Ten season as they allowed 186.5 rushing yard per game while opponents average 4.41 yards per carry.
The Hawkeye defense will be looking for a bounce back year in the upcoming season and it all starts with the linebackers. James Morris, Christian Kirksey, and Anthony Hitchens make up the most experienced linebacker core in the conference. The Iowa linebackers head into this season with eight years of starting experience. Morris is approaching his third campaign as a starter. The Solon, Iowa native has been a household name in the state of Iowa over the last four years after receiving significant playing time his freshman season against Penn St. Morris will man the middle for Hawkeyes and he’s arguably their most important linebacker. He’s an intelligent player who is very effective at reading plays. The Hawkeye senior finished with 115 tackles last year, second most on the team. Morris will be the signal caller for the Hawkeye defense for the upcoming year. He’s the most experienced player on the defense and his teammates will be looking for him to have a big role in revitalizing Iowa’s defense.
Kirksey is the other third year starter for the Hawkeye linebacker core. He’s the most athletic of the three linebackers. The Black and Gold senior is very good in pass coverage and playing in space. Kirksey was made numerous big plays throughout the season including two interception returns for touchdowns. The strong side linebacker put on some needed bulk in the offseason; he weighed 220 pounds last season and now he’s up to 235 pounds. Kirksey’s added weight should help him stopping the run.
On the opposite side of Morris is Hitches. He got an opportunity to start last year and made the most of it. The senior recorded 124 tackles in 2012 and he was among the nation’s top tacklers early in the season. Hitchens is the best-rounded linebacker of the group. The weak-side linebacker is adequate in coverage but he’s a sure open field tackler. He’s the perfect mixture of size, athleticism, and tenacity. An offseason to build off of his first starting experience should aid the Lorain, Ohio native in becoming one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten.
Iowa football will be seeking a bowl appearance after laying an egg in a 3-8 campaign last year. The re-emergence of Iowa’s defense will be important to a successful 2013-2014 campaign. The Hawkeyes will heavily rely on the linebacker core to fuel a defensive turnaround.