POSITIONAL AWARENESS 2019: CORNERBACK

By Mike Jones on August 12, 2019 at 8:29 pm
Matt Hankins Tackles UNI Player
© Jeffrey Becker-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, tight end.

Previously on Positional Awareness:

  1. Quarterback
  2. Running Back
  3. Linebacker
  4. Wide Receiver
Eligibility Remaining      
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
11 Michael Ojemudia SR 6-1/200 Left Cornerback #1          
8 Matt Hankins JR 6-0/185 Right Cornerback #1          
20 Julius Brents SO 6-3/203 Left Cornerback #2          
33 Riley Moss SO 6-1/191 Right Cornerback #2          
12 D.J. Johnson FR(RS) 5-11/183 Cornerback          
16 Terry Roberts FR(RS) 5-10/176 Cornerback          
14 Daraun McKinney FR 5-10/185 Cornerback          
27 Jermari Harris FR 6-1/177 Cornerback          
30 Quinn Schulte FR 6-1/185 Cornerback          

The New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

LC #1: MICHAEL OJEMUDIA (#11, Senior, 6'1, 200 lbs., Harrison, Farmington Hills, MI)

Ojemudia was profiled by Darren Miller a few days ago and told the story of how Phil Parker recruited the Michigan native at a Division 2 football semifinal in 2014. Parker said, "I thought he was long, could play either corner position, and was tough enough to be able to tackle guys in space.” Miller also noted that during the game, Ojemduia knocked two quarterbacks out of the game, including Tyree Jackson, who attended SUNY Buffalo and now plays for the Buffalo Bills.

Parker was right about Ojemudia’s length as he’s physically the rangiest cornerback on the roster (though Brents might challenge him for the title) but his athleticism didn’t immediately translate to success on the field. After redshirting and playing in every game as a redshirt freshman, Ojemudia started in 2017, lost his job to Manny Rugamba, won it back, lost it again via Felton Davis III and came off the bench the remainder of the season. Last year, he earned the starting position for the third (?) time and finally earned his first career interception against UNI:

He continued to play well until losing the starting position once again, this time due to a hamstring injury in September. He continued to play but didn’t look himself until the Hawkeyes closed out the season against Illinois and Nebraska. He was arguably the defensive hero of the Nebraska contest when he halted a Cornhusker offensive march late in the game:

With his action being inconsistent last season it’s difficult to gauge his effectiveness from a purely statistical standpoint. However, it’s worth pointing out that despite the inconsistent playing time, he tied for second in interceptions (3), second in pass breakups (6) and second in total passes defended (9). Even with the health issues, he was still the rangy, athletic cornerback that Phil Parker recruited in 2014.

His resiliency is why Kirk Ferentz chose to send him to this season’s Big Ten Media Days. His versatility is why he’s being considered for the "cash" spot in 2019. He’s Iowa’s most experienced cornerback and if everything holds up this season, he’s due for a special season.   

Confidence Man

RC #1: MATT HANKINS (#8, Junior, 6’0, 185 lbs., Marcus, Flower Mound, TX)

Hankins was fast-tracked to the front of a pack, earning his first career start against Nebraska as a true freshman in 2017. He looked solid, both against a hapless Cornhusker team and a good Boston College squad. His grasp on the position was firm heading into last year, as he started the first five games of the season until, like Ojemudia, he suffered an injury and missed the entire month of October, returning against Northwestern. He closed out the season strong, notching 19 combined tackles and a pass deflection against Nebraska and Mississippi State. In the Outback Bowl, his best play came early in the fourth quarter:

via GIPHY

Now, there are two ways you could look at that. One way is to say Hankins got beat by Stephen Guidry and gave up a big play, setting up the Bulldogs up on their one-yard line. The other way you could look at is remembering that because of Hankins’s tackle, the Bulldogs were set up on their one-yard line, lost yardage on the next three plays and had to settle for a field goal. Had he scored, it would’ve been 25-24 in favor of the Bulldogs, with the option to go for two and potentially make it 27-24. You might remember that Iowa only scored three points in the fourth quarter, winning 27-22. Had Guidry scored, the game could’ve ended differently.

That tackle is Hankins in a nutshell. He has no turnovers to his name in two seasons, be it interceptions or forced fumbles. He has no sacks or even a tackle for loss. Hankins doesn’t make flashy plays. He makes necessary plays. He is Iowa’s best tackling cornerback, the best cornerback in run support and he still has two years of eligibility. 

While You Wait for the Others

LC #2: JULIUS BRENTS (#20, Sophomore, 6'3, 203 lbs., Warren Central, Indianapolis, IN)

Once Iowa’s highest-rated recruit (per Rivals) in the class of 2017, Brents is now your #2 cornerback and the heir apparent to Ojemudia. He played in 11 games last season, accumulating 13 tackles, three pass deflections, and one interception. The interception came against Minnesota, where he leaped in front of the ball to prevent a completion to First Team All-Big Ten receiver Tyler Johnson:

She’s a beaut, Clark. There isn’t a lot of tape on Brents but a few things are for sure. First, at 6’3, 203, he’s a gigantic cornerback with freakish physical abilities. Second, looking at what Phil Parker has done with “developmental” players in recent years, it’s incredibly exciting to see what he can do with someone so highly touted. Going back on what I said at the beginning, Brents is the presumed heir to Ojemudia but in reality, he could very well challenge for a starting spot in the non-conference. 

RC #2: RILEY MOSS (#33, Sophomore, 6'1, 191 lbs., Centennial, Ankeny, IA)

There were audible groans when Iowa announced that Riley Moss would be starting alongside Julius Brents against Minnesota. Unlike Brents, who was highly touted and looked the part of a Big Ten cornerback even as a true freshman, Moss was a 2-star safety whose best offer came from North Dakota State. If there was any upside it was that we knew Moss was fast, thanks to his track background:

And sure enough, Minnesota’s offense went to work against Moss (and to a lesser extent, Brents), chucking the ball down the field and hoping that they could convert against the true freshman. Sometimes, it worked. Other times:

And honestly, there was a touchdown where Moss was in coverage and he played the receiver pretty well (see :45 mark). There were times when he was out of position. There were times when he made mistakes. There were times when he looked like a true freshman. But he looked the part…until the Purdue game.

If you forgot about the Purdue game, the second straight game where Kirk Ferentz was outcoached, Moss was singled out and exploited as the weakest link (just like Manny Rugamba was the year prior) by Jeff Brohm, who had David Blough throw in his general direction most of the game. Moss, who was covering Terry Wright, did not do the best job covering Terry Wright, who ended the day with 146 yards and three touchdowns. Moss ended up getting benched in favor of Ojemudia, who was still recovering from an injury. 

So, on one side of the coin, you have Moss looking capable in four games as a true freshman. On the other side, you realize those games were against Minnesota, Indiana, Maryland and Penn State in poor conditions, and in the fifth game he was boatraced by a Purdue receiver not named Rondale Moore.  

In summation, Riley Moss looked like a true freshman last season and there shouldn’t be any judgments made about his capabilities until he’s a bit older.

D.J. JOHNSON (#12, Redshirt Freshman, 5'11, 183 lbs., North Central, Indianapolis, IN)

TERRY ROBERTS (#16, Redshirt Freshman, 5'10, 176 lbs., Cathedral Prep, Erie, PA)

Donald Johnson was another 4-star/3-star recruit from Indianapolis who had an impressive list of offers, including Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Duke, Indiana, and Purdue. Out of high school, we were impressed with his tackling skills, so it came as a surprise when he didn't see any game action last season. He's made gigantic strides, though, as Phil Parker has said that Johnson is first in line to play the cash position. Why, you ask? Well:

It's good that they can't hit quarterbacks in practice because Johnson would've brought the pain there. We've never seen him in an actual game but with the practice footage and Phil Parker's praise, there's a lot to be excited about with Johnson, even if he isn't a starting cornerback.

Terry Roberts didn't have the same recruiting hype as Johnson, with his only other offer being from Duquesne. What made Roberts special was that he's from Erie, attended the same high school as Bob Sanders and credits both Bob and Jovon Johnson, another Erie native, for helping him develop into a better athlete. Per Mark Emmert, Parker was also high on Roberts this spring:

“I think Terry Roberts has really done a good job here in the last week. I mean, he's definitely got good speed,” he said. “It really kind of jumped him up into that same as Moss and Julius area where I feel real comfortable about putting him in the game.”

All things considered, you've probably got six guys on the roster who could see consistent playing time this season.

They Were Only Freshmen

DARAUN MCKINNEY (#14, Freshman, 5'10, 185 lbs., River Rouge, River Rogue, MI)

JERMARI HARRIS (#27, Freshman, 6'1, 177 lbs., Montini Catholic, Chicago, IL)

QUINN SCHULTE (#30, Freshman, 6'1, 186 lbs., Xavier, Cedar Rapids, IA)

McKinney was a 3-star recruit from the Detroit area that was originally committed to NIU before flipping to the Hawkeyes (Desmond King, anyone?). He was 5'10, 170 when he signed, enrolled early this spring and is now up to 185 pounds. Harris was a 3-star/2-star recruit with offers from basically every directional school in the Midwest. Schulte was actually a wide-receiver at Xavier and walked on with the Hawkeyes, despite having an offer from South Dakota State. With Iowa having so much depth at corner, most, if not all of these guys will see a redshirt in 2019.

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