Speak to Me in a Language I Can Hear
This week's spring practice press conference participants: Newly-minted defensive line coach Kelvin Bell and linebackers coach Seth Wallace. The biggest "news" of the day deserves its own heading -- at the risk of burying the lede, we'll get to it next -- but the first topic of conversation: Amani Jones.
Amani Jones was supposed to be the starting middle linebacker last September. One quarter into the season, that was over. So what do you do with a consummate team guy who plays like a monster but can't seem to be in the right position on the field? Cut down on the read responsibilities and cut him loose on the edge. And so Amani Jones is a defensive end now. And it might be the most natural of fits:
“I’ve seen a monster,” returning defensive end A.J. Epenesa said with a grin. “A little bully out there. So strong. So fast. Powerful, right off the edge. It looks pretty good.”
That's game respect game material right there, and of course it is. Of course Jones is a great defensive end, all strength and speed without any further thought than finding the ball and suplexing the guy who is carrying it. He might not have the height that Iowa likes on the edge -- he's listed at just 5'11" -- but he has everything else Iowa wants, especially in a situational role.
And that's where Kelvin Bell came in:
Start getting to know the term "edge defender." I'm hearing that a lot more than "defensive end."— Marc Morehouse (@marcmorehouse) April 2, 2019
"Edge defender" is a newfangled pro term that usually wouldn't have a place at Iowa, but when you have A.J. Epenesa on the one end and the weight room king on the other, you have versatility that doesn't fit into the "defensive end" box. Which brings us to the biggest news of Tuesday.
Humor Me Before I Have to Go
Might as well just get to it: With Jones as a defensive end...ge defender, Iowa's talking about using a 3-4 defensive alignment:
Seth Wallace (on Amani Jones): "It starts to give you a sense of a 3-4 when hes out there."— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) April 2, 2019
For the longest time, we were stuck in that 4-3 ... And now were finding where a decision that we made last year (to a 4-2-5) made it easier to make a decision now with Amani Jones.
Iowa DL coach Kelvin Bell on putting Amani Jones on field as an edge defender: It gives our defense a little bit different look; a little more 3-4. Its still defense. Gaps, and things of that nature. Things happen a lot faster down there because youre closer to the ball."— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) April 2, 2019
This all stems from last season, when Iowa finally ditched its traditional 4-3 alignment for the versatility of a 4-2-5 hybrid and proved to Kirk Ferentz that a change in defensive alignment would not bring about the end times. In actuality, the 4-2-5 wasn't a gigantic difference from the 4-3 Iowa had used in the past -- an outside linebacker like Christian Kirksey was really only a slightly larger version of Amani Hooker -- but it gave Iowa a better chance against just about every modern offense than an overmatched linebacker in coverage would.
So let's start here: There's a big difference between a 3-4 alignment, which is essentially a five-man front with do-everything versatility at the edges, and a 3-4 defense. First among them: Gap responsibility on the defensive line. The 4-3, at least as Iowa usually plays it, is a pure one-gap system. Each defensive lineman is responsible for one "gap" between offensive linemen. As originally devised by Jimmy Johnson, the 4-3 takes a lot of reaction out of the defensive line play and lets linemen simply act.
A 3-4, on the other hand, is generally a two-gap system, where a defensive lineman has responsibility to hold up at the line of scrimmage and react to where things go. It's why a world-eater nose tackle is typically crucial to the whole scheme: He has to hold up against a center and at least one guard blocking him and fill holes on the interior long enough to let a linebacker clean things up. Many NFL teams use a hybrid version of the 3-4 with some one-gap responsibilities, but a pure one-gap 3-4 isn't really a 3-4, and Iowa under Kirk Ferentz has never been a two-gap defense.
If you look closely at those quotes above, this appears to be far more a flirtation with 3-4 alignment rather than a 3-4 defense. That was the takeaway of the Pontiff of the Ferentz-Era Press Corps:
Guys, they won't run a 3-4 defense. They might run a 3-4 look, but it won't be a 3-4. I could see where Amani Jones could be a key piece in a zone blitz package. Not a 3-4. But this is the time of the spring crazies.— Marc Morehouse (@marcmorehouse) April 2, 2019
I'm 90 percent sure Morehouse is right. A one-gap system could theoretically be run out of a 3-4 alignment without much changed. After all, when Iowa is in 4-3, the outside linebacker is usually lined up over the tight end on or near the line of scrimmage with the weakside defensive end outside the offensive tackle, essentially the same quasi-five-man front as a modern 3-4.
This is where it all goes back to this "edge defender" talk. The 3-4 defensive end looks and acts more like a tackle than a pass rusher, so the NFL changed the outside linebacker to an "edge defender" responsible for pass rush but also versatile enough to drop into coverage or chase a running back into the flat. Last season, Iowa switched to the 4-2-5 out of necessity -- apparently the Wisconsin loss proved that to them -- but also because it had Amani Hooker, a one-of-a-kind talent capable of playing the hybrid linebacker/safety spot needed for that defense to work. Iowa is auditioning guys for that role this year, but it might not have one.
What it has instead is A.J. Epenesa, a wholly different kind of one-of-a-kind talent who probably needs to be freed up from defensive line responsibilities and allowed to wreck shop wherever he's needed. If the personnel can hold up, a 3-4 alignment gives you exponentially more versatility from your edge defenders, and now you have established arguably the two best pure athletes on your defensive roster in those spots. Iowa would need to essentially find three defensive tackles -- even if one is a third-down end convert like Parker Hesse was last year -- and just like that, you have Epenesa and Jones unleashed on third downs, with space to work and quarterbacks to mutilate.
A roving AJE taking advantage of the other team's worst OL? Who wouldn't like that? I'm surprised we haven't seen a little of it.— Marc Morehouse (@marcmorehouse) April 2, 2019
This is where it gets fun, people.
Deep in Thought I Forgive Everyone
Dedicated followers of the Gordy Bohannon family know that the sons haven't always had the best relationship with the NCAA. Zach Bohannon once, somewhat famously, got sideways with the NCAA when security wouldn't let him bring a bottle of water into shootaround because it wasn't from the NCAA's chosen water sponsor. As recently as last month, Zach -- who graduated four years ago -- was still publicly calling the NCAA a cartel and advocating for players to be allowed to make money from their own names and likenesses.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal published an article about players taking merch, like rugs, from the locker rooms of NCAA Tournament sites. Turns out one of the rugs is in the apartment of Jordan Bohannon, and Jordan hopped on Twitter to let everyone know the price for returning it.
What was clearly a joke quickly became a big news story: A player who STOLE A RUG (!!!) demanding pay-for-play. Every advocate on every side of the issue dropped into Bohannon's mentions. The tweet got damn near 15,000 likes. Jay Bilas retweeted it. Yahoo Sports made it a cause celebre.
Within a couple of days, Bohannon was backing down (in a way that left no doubt he was being forced to do so):
After much deliberation, the @NCAA has agreed with the @uiowa the rug can stay in Iowa City as long as I issue a mea culpa. With that, I am sorry for my actions. No one is denying the incredible opportunities the NCAA provides for athletes like myself. I am forever grateful. https://t.co/zJ4VG8kL3z— Jordan Bohannon (@JordanBo_3) April 1, 2019
And if there was any doubt that the last couple of lines of that tweet were sarcasm, Bohannon took care of that in the Washington Post:
Iowa’s athletic staff consulted with Jordan Bohannon on his options Sunday, suggesting a number of tweets that he could write, along the lines of, “This was all in good fun. I’m very grateful to play in the tournament that the NCAA provided.” Jordan turned to his brother for help editing the final version of the tweet.
“I tried to go with something that sounded a little more sarcastic,” Jordan Bohannon said in a phone interview.
In Scott Dochterman's story for The Athletic ($, and worth the price, FWIW), Bohannon pinned the issue on NCAA officials rather than Iowa athletics, and said Fran McCaffery left it up to him to decide whether, and in what form, he was going to apologize. McCaffery also gave Doc a fairly strong-worded statement of support for his player:
“I applaud Jordan for voicing his opinion on name, image, and likeness,” McCaffery said in a statement given to The Athletic. “It is obviously a topic that a lot of student-athletes have opinions in regards to, and he takes this platform very seriously. It’s an issue for both the NCAA and college athletic programs and Jordan is sharing an educated opinion in a professional manner. Our guys enjoyed their NCAA Tournament experience and appreciate the mementoes they were able to gather from the locker room that were provided by the NCAA.”
And then big brother came in for the kill with the help of Frank the Tank:
Take pay-for-play out of the equation for a minute -- Bohannon never even brings it up in his tweet or the quotes afterward -- and consider this: Nobody else getting a scholarship from the University of Iowa is licensing the use of his or her name, likeness, or image to the University or another affiliated organization as part of that scholarship. Olympic athletes, the paragon of amateurism in most sports, are allowed to endorse products and lend their name or likeness to advertising without losing amateur status. If you are in favor of the players getting paid, allowing them to license their own names and faces is a good start. If you are opposed, allowing it adds free-market capitalism without leaving the schools on the hook for the cost. You would be hard pressed to find someone outside the NCAA offices or athletics administration who would find it objectionable. And of course it won't happen, because it would put NCAA and major-college revenue streams at risk. And that's bullshit.
Sometimes, absurdity needs to be pointed out as absurd. Bohannon did that here. Regardless of where you stand, that should be commended.
Odds and Ends
Tomorrow's just an excuse away.
Another name in the mix at Arkansas is former UCLA coach Steve Alford, source told @Stadium— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) April 2, 2019
There's also this:
Called my ace source about Eric Mussleman and Arkansas marriage. Heres what Im told.— Mark (@TheLoboLair) April 3, 2019
Arkansas has flown and met with, Iowas Fran McCaffery, Minnesotas Richard Pitino, and Nevadas Eric Musselman.
Im told all are in play at this point. #Nevada #Hawkeyes #Arkansas
One coaching change that has already happened: Fred Hoiberg is now the head coach at Nebraska, and had some nice things to say about...Fran McCaffery?
Hoiberg: "I think Fran's done an incredible job at the University of Iowa. ... I have great respect for Fran, his family, and the way he runs his program."— Mike Hlas (@Hlas) April 2, 2019
Not sure why Fran was brought up, other than the fact that Iowa has been living rent-free in Nebraska's head for five years now. But they are gonna go dancin'. They are GONNA GO DANCIN'. DANCIN'. DANCIN'. EVERY YEAR. EVERY YEAR.
Best soundbite of the morning. pic.twitter.com/KZoFnZEHmF— Courtney Johns (@CourtneyJohnsTV) April 1, 2019
The DMR has done an excellent job of covering the women's tournament run, and Leistikow ends it with a walk-off on how this whole season has been really fun.
Illinois has decided to let fans kill the pain without the trouble of going to the parking lot:
Illinois announces it will allow beer sales at home football games starting this fall— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) April 2, 2019
If you haven't seen Jason Hawk Harris cover "Teenage Dirtbag" you haven't seen Shakespeare the way it's meant to be done:
And finally, the funniest thing I saw all week:
billy corgan rides a roller coaster pic.twitter.com/PCzds7WFN3— 43% turnt (@_fvther) March 31, 2019