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, tight end.
Previously on Positional Awareness:
|34||Kristian Welch||SR||6-3/239||Middle Linebacker #1|
|49||Nick Niemann||JR||6-4/235||Weak-side Linebacker #2|
|35||Barrington Wade||JR||6-1/236||Outside Linebacker #1|
|32||Djimon Colbert||SO||6-1/235||Weak-side Linebacker #1|
|43||Dillon Doyle||FR(RS)||6-3/235||Middle Linebacker #2|
The Ever-changing Three
OLB #1: BARRINGTON WADE (#35, Junior, 6’1", 236 lbs, Niles North, Skokie, IL)
Even though Wade played in 12 games last season he’s still a wild card when it comes to starting at outside linebacker. He came to Iowa as a 3-star athlete/running back with offers from a number of Group of Five schools. After redshirting he played in exactly zero games his redshirt freshman season and was suddenly thrown into the mix as a sophomore. His stat line in 12 games was…three tackles. So, yeah.
Wade was actually supposed to start in place of Nick Niemann against Minnesota last season but Djimon Colbert ended up getting the nod. This spring, Wade went from backing up Niemann to getting the #1 spot and Nick backing up Colbert on the weakside. All this moving around should tell you that your listed starter probably won’t be the guy who takes the field on August 31st. Wade’s speed isn’t in question. His prowess as an outside linebacker? Still TBD. Also TBD? How much the player at this position -- whoever it winds up being -- is on the field, given Iowa's embrace of the 4-2-5 and "cash" position on defense.
MLB #1: KRISTIAN WELCH (#34, Senior, 6’3", 239 lbs, Iola-Scandinavia, Iola, WI)
Welch is Iowa’s most experienced linebacker, even if he doesn’t have the most starts among the #1s. In his first two seasons at Iowa he saw action in a combined 24 games. Last year, there was an expectation that he would succeed Josey Jewell at middle linebacker. Then, Amani Jones started playing really well and Aaron Mends tore his ACL so once again, Welch found himself on the outside.
We’re well aware that the Amani Jones at MLB experiment didn’t last long, so the shuffle began with Jack Hockaday taking his spot in week two. The lineup of Niemann, Hockaday, and Welch lasted until October when Colbert got into the mix. At that point, Welch took a backseat to Djimon and saw himself backing up Hockaday for the remainder of the season.
In the 12 games that he did play, Welch amassed 49 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. Last season he was one of Iowa’s most versatile linebackers but unfortunately, he wasn’t one of the best three on the field due to his inconsistency. With Hockaday’s graduation he’ll once again have a chance to secure the starting MLB position.
WLB #1: DJIMON COLBERT (#32, Sophomore, 6'1", 235 lbs, Bishop Miege, Shawnee Mission, KS)
Colbert should be a prime example of how college football is moving away from your traditional linebacker and towards the hybrid safety-linebacker types like the role Amani Hooker played last year. Colbert was recruited as a cornerback, redshirted his freshman season, and moved to linebacker prior to the 2018 spring practice. Despite starting week two against Iowa State, he fell victim to the aforementioned linebacker shuffle, resurfacing as the weak-side starter against Minnesota and holding the spot the remainder of the season.
Looking at the starting three, it’s fair to assume that Wade will be challenged and possibly supplanted by Niemann and Dillon Doyle could even have his say against Welch. There should be no such challenges to Colbert, who displayed his athletic talent (even if raw at times) and is obviously capable of maintaining the starting weak-side spot.
While You Wait for the Others
MLB #2: DILLON DOYLE (#43, Redshirt Freshman, 6'3", 235 lbs, West, Iowa City, IA)
WLB #2: NICK NIEMANN (#49, Junior, 6’4", 235 lbs, Sycamore, Sycamore, IL)
Fun fact: both of Iowa’s backup linebackers are coaches sons! Doyle was a lightly recruited player that saw action in four games last season, primarily on special teams, and redshirted. As he’s the son of Chris Doyle there’s not much question that he'll be extending MAXIMUM EFFORT on every play and will do all of the right things to impress the coaches. It’s clear he’s already done that by his appearance on the depth chart and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he started at some point this season.
Niemann being listed as a backup seems like some sort of motiviational tool rather than an actual demotion. As a refresher, Nick was a 3-star recruit with offers from Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Illinois, who was billed as bigger and faster than his older brother (former Iowa linebacker Ben Niemann). He entered the season as the starter at outside linebacker and held down the starting job until he suffered a leg injury against Wisconsin in week four and never started again.
Of all the linebackers on the roster not named Djimon Colbert, Niemann looked the steadiest last season. So again, it’s odd to see him taking a backseat to Welch. There's a good chance that won’t be the case come week one.
AMANI JONES (#52, Senior, 5'11", 244 lbs, Phillips, Chicago, IL)
NICK ANDERSON (#47, Senior, 6'2", 230 lbs, Waukee, Waukee, IA)
There’s a lot to be said about Amani Jones. Heading into 2018, he was talking about all the right things, saying the unit as a whole needed to be better. He was a team player. He was a freak athlete. He was a hard hitter. And actually, he still is all of those things.
The problem is that he struggled mightily in his only career start and a model of how you shouldn’t play the run as a middle linebacker. That’s why he only lasted one game and was relegated to special teams/Jack Hockaday’s backup. When he did play, he hit like this:
Side note: That wasn’t targeting.
This spring there was a bunch of talk about how Iowa was experimenting with some sort of 3-4 defense, where Jones played a blitzing linebacker/defensive end. Mas Casa was skeptical:
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
Dammit, Marc. Give us our 3-4!
Jones’s athletic prowess is a known commodity. Unfortunately, playing linebacker is a lot more than being able to hit a guy harder than Joe Lewis. That Iowa is recognizing his speed and power and seeking to potentially utilize it through blitz packages is encouraging. What would be more encouraging, however, is if Jones made strides in run support. If he can do that, he’ll be starting in no time.
Hey, we didn’t forget about you, Nick Anderson! You might remember Anderson as the IWCC guy who got into some sort of recruiting snafu with Matt Campbell and Iowa State, ending with Anderson saying "Ever since then I’ve had a hatred for them." He didn’t see any game action in 2018 but that quote alone is worth him being on the roster.
They Were Only Freshmen (Mostly Redshirt)
SETH BENSON (#44, Redshirt Freshman, 6'0", 227 lbs, Washington, Sioux Falls, SD)
JOE EVANS (#13, Redshirt Freshman, 6'2", 240 lbs, Ames, Ames, IA)
LOGAN KLEMP (#46, Redshirt Freshman, 6'2", 228 lbs, South Hamilton, Jewell, IA)
JAYDEN MCDONALD (#25, Redshirt Freshman, 6'0", 235 lbs, North Gwinnett, Suwanee, GA)
MITCH RIGGS (#36, Redshirt Freshman, 6'1", 236 lbs, Dowling, West Des Moines, IA)
MIKE TIMM (#19, Redshirt Freshman, 6'0", 229 lbs, Kettle Moraine, Delafield, WI)
MITCH POTTEBAUM (#38, Redshirt Freshman, 6'1", 236 lbs, West Lyon, Larchwood, IA)
Every single linebacker that was a freshman last season ended up redshirting. Benson, a lightly recruited 3-star player, saw action in three games. Klemp, another lightly recruited player, didn’t play. Evans, Riggs, and Timm were all walk-ons that redshirted after seeing no game action. Jayden McDonald was a highly touted player from Georgia that originally committed to Rutgers, realized he’d committed to Rutgers, backed out and signed with Iowa instead. He didn’t see any game time last season. Pottebaum walked on and was actually a fullback in high school so it’s safe to assume that's also where he might end up at Iowa (he could lay some PotteBOOMs as a lead blocker).
JESTIN JACOBS (#5, Freshman, 6'4", 220 lbs, Northmont, Englewood, OH)
JACK CAMPBELL (#31, Freshman, 6'4", 218 lbs, Cedar Falls, Cedar Falls, IA)
YAHWEH JEUDY (#55, Freshman, 6'0", 201, Cardinal Gibbons, Pompano Beach, FL)
Jacobs was a heavily recruited 3-star player from some services, with a long list of offers, including Michigan State, Kentucky, Perdue, Minnesota Northwestern and Missouri. Rivals actually rated him a 4-star player and per their ratings system, he was Iowa’s best recruit of 2019. He’s BFS (big, fast, and strong) so he could be your weak-side/outside linebacker of the future.
Campbell is your typical in-state guy that had offers from Iowa State, UNI and Minnesota. He’s an instinctive player and solid tackler, so he’s probably your middle linebacker of the future.
Finally, Yahweh was a 3-star player with a number of offers, including FAU, Kansas State, Navy and Syracuse. He’d originally committed to Kansas State but when Bill Snyder “retired,” he explored other options and ended up signing with the Hawkeyes. Like Jacobs, he’s a rangy athlete and will probably fit somewhere on the outside.
It’s odd that Iowa has a laundry list of redshirt players and then signed three freshman that look like they could actually be the starting lineup of the future. Jacobs, Campbell, Jeudy for 2021!