Positional Awareness 2018: Experience, Depth and Talent Are Abundant at Defensive Tackle

By Mike Jones on June 13, 2018 at 1:00 pm
LATTIMORE COMING

© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

12 Comments

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, running back.

Previously on Positional Awareness:

  1. Quarterback
  2. Tight End
  3. Defensive End
Eligibility Remaining    
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2018 2019 2020 2022 2023
96 Matt Nelson SR 6-8/295 Defensive Tackle          
53 Garret Jansen JR 6-2/280 Left Tackle 2          
95 Cedrick Lattimore JR 6-3/295 Left Tackle 1          
91 Brady Reiff JR 6-3/272 Right Tackle 1          
66 Dalles Jacobus SO 6-0/280 Left Tackle 2          
54 Daviyon Nixon SO 6-3/306 Defensive Tackle          
74 Austin Schulte SO 6-4/275 Defensive Tackle          
  Tyler Linderbaum FR 6-2/270 Defensive Tackle          
  Noah Shannon FR 6-1/300 Defensive Tackle          

Typically, when a team loses half of its starters in a given position, it is cause for concern. Iowa is in that position in 2018, as two-year starter Nathan Bazata graduated. What is atypical for Iowa this year, as opposed to years past, is that they bring back a number of players who saw a lot of in-game experience due to last season’s generous defensive line rotations. Cedrick Lattimore, Brady Reiff, Garret Jansen and Matt Nelson played in all 13 games last season. Nelson was once a starter at defensive end who moved to tackle and could challenge for the starting position if healthy. Even with Bazata’s loss, Iowa is still in a great position at defensive tackle due to the breadth of experience and talent across the board.

PRODIGY

LT1: CEDRICK LATTIMORE (#90, Junior, 6'3", 295 lbs., East English Village, Redford, MI)

If you’re looking for highlights of Cedrick Lattimore’s sophomore season, they’ll be hard to come by. This isn’t to say Lattimore was bad, but it is to say that he lost his job to Matt Nelson midway through the season. Through 13 games, including those six starts, Lattimore amassed 15 tackles, 1.5 TFL, and 1.5 sacks. Those numbers probably aren’t blowing your skirt up because they, in fact, aren’t that great.

Maybe we were expecting too much? Lest we forget: Lattimore came to Iowa as a defensive end recruit and was thrust into the tackle spot after putting on 30+ pounds. He looked good as a true freshman but that might’ve been because offensive lines had effectively been broken by Jaleel Johnson. It was too much to expect him to instantly start playing like Jaleel or Carl Davis, two guys that only really broke out as seniors. There was bound to be a learning curve when switching from end to tackle. We saw that unfold last season.

In the end, Lattimore is still one of the more talented players on the entire defensive end and the biggest tackle on the depth chart. He really got his feet wet at defensive tackle last season. Expect better from him this fall.

THE SECOND COMING

RT1: BRADY REIFF (#91, Junior, 6'3", 272 lbs., Parkston, Parkston, SD)

Alright, everyone. Let’s just pump our breaks for a second here. Yes, it’s true that Brady Reiff is listed as the starter at defensive tackle. It’s also true that he looked like a very solid player in shared time with Matt Nelson and Cedrick Lattimore last year. But let’s get this out of the way right now: This is Matt Nelson’s spot and Reiff is only here due to Nelson’s ankle injury. Got it? Good.

Reiff was a 2-star player with only one other FBS offer who has been gradually increasing in size with every passing moment like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. He came to Iowa as a 225-pound defensive end. By his sophomore year, he was 260 pounds. Now he’s 272 pounds. Last season he was Academic All-Big Ten, played in all 13 games and recorded 13 tackles, 1 TFL, and 1 sack. Those are similar numbers to Cedrick Lattimore, who actually started six games. 

Reiff has a lineman’s pedigree (obviously) and is clearly a tenacious player, judging by his steady involvement last season as only a 260-pound sophomore. I don’t think he has the size or the skill to beat out a healthy Matt Nelson for a starting position but if Lattimore has another poor start, Reiff might pull off a coup at DT.

Brady is Riley Reiff's brother. I am contractually obligated to say this in the event that you were not aware. 

WHILE YOU WAIT FOR THE OTHERS

LT2: DALLES JACOBUS (#66, Sophomore, 6'0", 280 lbs., CR Kennedy, Palo, IA)

RT2: GARRET JANSEN (#53, Junior, 6'2", 280 lbs., Pella, Pella, IA)

Dalles Jacobus being listed as the #2 backup defensive tackle is an accommodation award, in my opinion. Just consider that Jacobus walked on, redshirted, and didn’t even see any action in 2017. Is he actually the backup? No. That’s either Reiff or Jansen. But as he was named the backup it is worth noting in the future, as I see it as an award for performance in practice.

Jansen, on the other hand, actually is a backup. Jansen originally committed to Cincinnati before changing his mind and making the move to Iowa City in 2015. He redshirted as a freshman and has seen time in 24 games over the past two seasons, primarily on special teams. When I say primarily I mean that I’m pretty sure he’s only seen action at defensive tackle on one game in two seasons. Is that a cause for concern? No, not really. You learn to tackle on special teams and he’s one of the more experienced players on the depth chart. Tackling ability + experience = A solid backup 110% of the time.

MATT NELSON (#96, Senior, 6'8", 295 lbs., Xavier, Cedar Rapids, IA)

Nelson made the move to the interior in 2017 and took over the starting position from Lattimore the last half of the season. In 13 games, including six starts, he had 23 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 pass breakups and 1 sack. Yes, those stats are clearly better than Lattimore’s and it was a good decision for Nelson to take over as a starter.

Of course, Nelson’s problem, as it has been his entire career, is his health. There have been ankle, feet, and shoulder problems plaguing and sometimes sidelining Nelson since he’s been a starter at defensive end. Most recently he had surgery for a torn labrum, which kept him out this spring and off of the depth chart. By fall, he should be healthy and ready to go.

Nelson was the odd man out at defensive end but he really shined on the interior. This was no more evident than in the passing game, as his three pass breakups were more than Bazata and Lattimore combined. It would appear that being 6’8" and 295 pounds has its perks. If (and this is a big IF) Nelson can stay healthy, he can make Iowa’s defensive line truly elite thanks to his size and length.

DAVIYON NIXON (#54, Sophomore, 6'3", 306 lbs., Indian Trail, Kenosha, WI)

AUSTIN SCHULTE (#74, Sophomore, 6'4", 275 lbs., Pella, Pella, IA)

You might remember big Daviyon Nixon as the player that Alabama tampered with when he was committed to Iowa but that’s OK because it’s Nick Saban and Alabama so there will be no consequences at all for anyone. Nixon was a 3-star recruit that signed with Iowa in 2017 but failed to qualify academically, so he enrolled in Iowa Western Community College last fall. Iowa appealed to the NCAA, won, and Nixon joined Iowa this January. However, he’s going to take an academic redshirt so we won’t actually see him until 2019.

Schulte was a linebacker out of high school who hasn’t seen any action since joining the program in 2016. We’ll wait and see where he fits into things, if at all, in 2018.

THEY WERE ONLY FRESHMEN

TYLER LINDERBAUM (Freshman, 6'2", 270 lbs., Solon, Solon, IA)

Linderbaum was a consensus 3-star recruit and U.S. Army All-American as a senior at Solon. He played both sides of the line in football, wrestled at heavyweight, qualified for the Drake Relays in shot put and even played some baseball. He is ultra-talented, explosive, but also is only a freshman. That being said, the defensive tackle roster seems relatively top-heavy and it seems like there is the opportunity to crack into the bottom of the rotation. Could Linderbaum do it? I think so.

NOAH SHANNON (Freshman, 6'1", 300 lbs., Oswego, Montgomery, IL)

While we're on the topic of ultra-talented, explosive defensive tackles, here's Noah Shannon! You might remember Shannon as the guy who committed to P.J. Fleck at Minnesota, later withdrew his commitment from Minnesota (good choice) and then announced he was coming to Iowa. He was a consensus 3-star recruit with offers from Arkansas, Cincinnati, Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue, Virginia, several other FBS programs, and Iowa State. Ultimately, he chose Iowa. Like Linderbaum, Shannon is explosive, talented and only a true freshman. With Nelson graduating this year and three other juniors, including two potential starters graduating in 2019, it wouldn’t be surprising to see true freshman getting some work this season.

12 Comments
View 12 Comments