One of the first things an Iowa football player learns under Kirk Ferentz is how to ignore the chatter from outside the program, good and bad.
The Iowa linebackers are benefiting from that advice right now.
They are fully aware that their position, where all three starters have to be replaced, is perceived as perhaps the Hawkeyes' biggest concern heading into the season.
"Coach Ferentz on the first day always tells us to block out the noise," said senior Quinton Alston, who is expected to replace four-year starter James Morris at middle linebacker. "I think that's something that has become a part of me.
"So everything that happens outside happens outside. And right now, I'm just focusing on getting better as a player."
Alston, a native of Sicklerville, N.J., waited through three seasons for his chance to start for the Hawkeyes. He is expected to be joined in the starting lineup by sophomore Reggie Spearman, who is from Chicago and doesn't turn 18 until Sunday, and junior Travis Perry, who is from Urbandale and came to Iowa as a walk-on.
They face the daunting task of replacing one of the greatest linebacker triumvirates in school history. Morris, along with Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens, started together at linebacker in each of the past two seasons. Morris is one of just six players in school history to finish with at least 400 tackles, while Kirksey and Hitchens were selected in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns and Dallas Cowboys in the third and fourth rounds, respectively.
Iowa's two linebacker coaches — LeVar Woods and Jim Reid — relish the challenge of moving on with a new group of linebackers.
"The challenge isn't so much replacing guys," said Woods, who played linebacker at Iowa from 1998 to 2000 before playing seven seasons in the NFL. "Now you have the chance to work with guys fresh and totally from your perspective."
All three of the starting linebackers played extensively on special teams last season. Alston and Spearman also were part of a "Raider" package that defensive coordinator Phil Parker installed last season in order to apply more pressure on the quarterback.
Alston has assumed the main leadership role, but not just because he's a senior.
"Quinton is an awesome young man, a great young man to be with every day," Woods said. "His voice — he needs to do voice-overs when he's done because he's got a great voice, a powerful voice. Quinton has done a great job, even before he was the starter, of being a strong leader. He's never afraid to say something if someone steps out of line. And that's what you look for in a middle linebacker."