POSITIONAL AWARENESS 2017: SEARCHING FOR AN HEIR TO THE THRONE AT CORNERBACK

By Mike Jones on June 28, 2017 at 9:01 am
MANNYBALL

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

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Positional Awareness is our annual rundown of the Iowa depth chart, from the position where we are most confident in what Kirk Ferentz intends to do to, well, wide receiver.

Previously on Positional Awareness:

  1. Linebacker
  2. Running Back
  3. Offensive Line
Eligibility Remaining
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2017 2018 2019 2020
15 Joshua Jackson JR 6-1/192 Left Cornerback        
11 Michael Ojemudia SO 6-2/190 Left Cornerback        
18 John Milani SO 6-0/195 Cornerback        
5 Manny Rugamba SO 6-0/185 Right Cornerback        
20 Cedric Boswell FR (RS) 5-11/187 Right Cornerback        
8 Matt Hankins FR 6-1/170 Cornerback        
10 Camron Harrell FR 5-11/193 Cornerback        
4 Josh Turner FR 6-0/180 Cornerback        
3 Trey Creamer FR 6-0/175 Cornerback        

STARTERS

RC: MANNY RUGAMBA (#5, 6'0, 185 lbs., Naperville Central, Naperville, IL)

When you saw cornerback as the fourth most “sure” position in Positional Awareness you probably thought, “Well Mike that’s crazy talk and fake news” but I can assure you, it is totally real. It’s true that Iowa lost their two starting cornerbacks from last season. It’s true that Iowa has to replace Desmond King, a four-year starter, Jim Thorpe Award winner, consensus All-American and arguably the greatest Iowa cornerback of all time. It’s true that they have to replace Greg Mabin, a three-year starter that would’ve finished out his career beside King if he hadn’t suffered a season-ending injury. That’s true.

But it was the injury to Mabin that gave rise to true freshman Manny Rugamba. As a refresher, Emmanuel Rugamba was a 3-star athlete out of Naperville Central that had a decent offer list from P5 schools like Boston College, UConn, Illinois, Indiana, and Pittsburgh. He had limited action leading up to the Michigan game including a less than inspiring performance against Purdue, where Iowa’s second team defense wilted against one of the worst teams in college football.

So when Mabin injured his leg prior to the Michigan game, yours truly called the loss of Mabin (and Kittle) “horrifying.” Who on the roster could possibly step up and stop Amara Darboh?  Emmanuel Rugamba, apparently.

Instead of wilting under the lights of Kinnick, Rugamba stood tall and held Darboh to one catch for five yards on eight targets. When Iowa was down 13-11 late in the fourth quarter and Michigan was yards away from “field goal range”, he made one of the most important plays of the game:

He followed it up with another stellar performance against Illinois and was set to partake in the destruction of Nebraska but suffered a broken collarbone in the first quarter and missed the remainder of the season.

He’ll be 100% this fall, a year wiser and ready to try to fill the shoes of Desmond King. Those shoes are impossible to fill but with what we saw last year, he has the talent and attitude to be a worthy successor to the throne.

LC: JOSHUA JACKSON (#15, 6'1, 192 lbs., Lake Daniels, Cornith, TX)

We’ve only seen limited action out of Joshua Jackson so it’s difficult to gauge how he’ll look as a starting cornerback. He’s been Iowa’s nickel for the past two seasons, but due to sporadic appearances his statistics don’t jump off the page. When Rugamba broke his collarbone, Jackson stepped in and was responsible for coverage against Stanley Morgan when the Huskers scored their sole touchdown (Iowa won 40-10 dontchaknow?)

His only career start was in the Outback Bowl, where Iowa suffered a 30-3 humiliation at the hands of Florida. Jackson was responsible for covering the wideout for one of those touchdowns, but the remainder of the points came on a long screen pass (where Jackson took a poor angle…along with every other Iowa player), an interception for a touchdown and field goals. Jackson wasn’t tested in his sole start because, well, Florida didn’t need to throw the ball to pants the Hawkeyes.

Lack of starting experience aside, Jackson has seen action in 26 games and is the sole upperclassman at cornerback. He may not have the fanfare of Rugamba but Iowa will need Jackson’s veteran presence to get the cornerbacks on the same page and into fighting shape early on in 2017. And if he struggles, Michael Ojemudia might be waiting.

WHILE YOU WAIT FOR THE OTHERS

LC: MICHAEL OJEMUDIA (#11, 6'2, 190 lbs., Harrison, Farmington Hills, MI)

RC: CEDRIC BOSWELL (#20, 5'11, 187 lbs., Groves, Beverly Hills, MI)

JOHN MILANI (#18, 6'0, 195 lbs., West, Iowa City, IA)

Might seem odd to group all these guys together but that’s the type of depth and experience we’re talking about at cornerback. 

Ojemudia redshirted as a freshman, saw action in every game, was Iowa’s starting cornerback in the 2017 Des Moines scrimmage, and starting nickel corner for the 2017 “spring game.” He’s expected to push Joshua Jackson this fall for the other starting position but sound bites and prognostication aside, there isn’t a lot to go on. 

Boswell was a lightly recruited 2-star cornerback who redshirted the entirety of 2016.  He was listed as the second-team cornerback for the spring game.

Milani walked on, redshirted and didn’t see any action as a redshirt freshman in 2016. He was a strong safety at West and I figured he might see time at safety last year yet that never came to fruition. 

THEY WERE ONLY FRESHMEN

MATT HANKINS (#8, Freshman, 6’1, 170 lbs., Marcus, Flower Mound, TX)

CAMRON HARRELL (#10, Freshman, 5’11, 193 lbs., Bradley-Bourbonnais, Bradley, IL)

JOSH TURNER (#4, Freshman, 6’0, 180 lbs., American Heritage, Delray Beach, FL)

TREY CREAMER (#3, Freshman, 6’0, 175 lbs., Cartersville, Cartersville, GA)

Iowa’s spring prospectus only listed ten (10!) defensive backs on the roster. That’s at safety and cornerback combined. That’s barely enough players to fill out a depth chart. So it’s good that the incoming class of 2017 is chock full of defensive backs, including four that could play cornerback. Given Iowa's lack of bodies at cornerback, there's a very good chance that at least 1-2 of these players will see the field in 2017.

You might remember Matt Hankins for his impressive offer list and resisting a late push from Michigan. He was originally recruited at 160 but has put on 10 pounds and is hoping to play this fall. Harrell has also put on some weight and confirmed that he’ll be a cornerback but doesn’t sound terribly upset if he were to get redshirted. Same for Josh Turner

Trey Creamer is the x-factor here. Recruited as a cornerback, Iowa’s need at wide receiver and Creamer’s athleticism leaves the door open for a position change. When Tom Kakert asked him about his position he had this to say:

CREAMER: (laugh) That’s going to be up to the coaches. Wherever they feel comfortable with me is where I will play. They have talked to me about playing some at wide receiver and some at defensive back. I guess whatever side of the ball they need me is where I will be. I just want to find a home and be the best I can be at that position, do my best, and help the team.

Wherever Creamer ends up, he’ll be a playmaker.  

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