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:
|19||Miles Taylor||SR||5-10/205||Strong Safety|
|37||Brandon Snyder||JR (RS)||6-1/215||Free Safety|
|30||Jake Gervase||JR(RS)||6-1/210||Free Safety|
|27||Amani Hooker||SO||6-0/210||Strong Safety|
SS: MILES TAYLOR (#19, 5'10, 205 lbs., Gonzaga, Silver Spring, MD)
When Taylor signed with Iowa -- following a bit of recruiting jujitsu where the staff got him into Iowa City for a secret visit despite his previous commitment to Georgia Tech and sealed a move -- we celebrated Kirk Ferentz finally, truly pursuing a safety recruit for the express purpose of playing safety. Iowa's usual philosophy of using walk-ons and converted players from other positions at safety had produced thoroughly average results in previous years, and the effort that went into getting Taylor showed that, at the very least, Iowa's staff understood part of the problem. Taylor played as a true freshman, and the ceiling looked extremely high.
Three years later, Taylor has to be considered one of the biggest question marks on the defense despite being virtually unchallenged for the starting strong safety position. His first season as a starter was what we expect from a first-time starter at strong safety: Excellent at planting receivers over the middle, average in play recognition and positioning. The problem, though, is that his second season wan't much better. He played well and racked up a bunch of tackles -- not always the best thing for a defensive back, but a relatively decent gauge for an Iowa strong safety -- in September. But his production and effectiveness diminished as the season progressed, to the point where he was being repeatedly exploited by opposing coordinators. He suffered an injury against Michigan, Iowa inserted senior Anthony Gair into the lineup, and suddenly the defense was what we had expected it to be (right up until the bowl game, at least).
Strong safety is important to this defense. Its responsibilities in the running and passing games are rivaled only by strongside linebacker, and when it's played well, Iowa is a much better defense (and, given its philosophy, overall team). There's no Anthony Gair on the depth chart this year, no veteran waiting in the wings to take over if Taylor still doesn't quite have the job figured out. It's on him, and it's year four, and it might well be the biggest question mark hanging over this entire defense. We hope he has it figured out.
FS: JAKE GERVASE (#30, 6'1, 210 lbs., Assumption, Davenport, IA)
Gervase, a walk-on out of one of the state's most well-known football factories, lined up with Hooker on special teams last year, then broke through in the spring game a few months back after presumed starter Brandon Snyder, himself a walk-on, went down with a torn ACL.
On paper, Gervase looks like precisely the kind of player Ferentz and his staff promote. The home region, the background, and the incubation period at Iowa all mirror Brett Greenwood -- the only difference being that Greenwood was forced to learn on the job -- and we all know how Kirk Ferentz loves to find new players who remind him of old players. Even with a lot of young talent behind him on the depth chart, Gervase was always the most likely replacement in the event of an injury to Snyder, which is exactly what happened.
To the extent there is any drama in the safety race this fall, it's because of all of that talent below. But Iowa generally takes experience over talent, the attention to detail that only comes from time in the program over the flash of recruiting stars. We're going to bet that, at least in the short term, that steadfast attention to steadfastness gets Gervase the job.
WHILE YOU WAIT FOR THE OTHERS
AMANI HOOKER (#27, 6'0, 210 lbs., Park Center, Minneapolis, MN)
Hooker played on special teams in every game last year as a true freshman, an impressive start for a guy who was stuck behind an entrenched starter and a senior at his position. The coaches like him, and he's absolutely the next guy off the bench at strong safety. Expect increased exposure to action on the defense proper, with a move into the starting lineup in 2018.
DJIMON COLBERT (#32, 6'1, 215 lbs., Bishop Miege, Shawnee Mission, KS)
You have to admit, Iowa has a type at safety. The depth chart is full -- and has been full -- of guys between 5'10 and 6'2 and 195 to 215 pounds. The good news for Colbert, one of the highest-rated recruits in Iowa's most recent class: He's already there, and it doesn't look like he needs much Doyle-izing to be ready for the field. The bad: He's probably third in line at strong safety. Expect something similar to Hooker's path, with special teams play this year leading him into the depth chart next season.
GENO STONE (#9, 6'0, 195 lbs., Senior, New Castle, PA)
If Colbert is already there physically, Stone isn't far off. And while his recruiting grades weren't what Colbert's were, that doesn't much matter. The bigger issue will be whether Stone eventually ends up at strong or free safety. If it's free safety (which makes the most sense, given what Iowa already has at its disposal and the track record for borderline two-star recruits at that position), it's a year in the incubator, a year in special teams, and three years in contention. Regardless, it's a redshirt or potential special teams play in 2017.
(Ed. note: The first version of this post included Brandon Snyder, who is unlikely to play this season due to a torn ACL. I'm an idiot.)