Hawkeye linebacker situation unsettled, but promising
IOWA CITY, Ia. – The way Quinton Alston sees it, there is no problem.
A quick scan of Iowa's football depth chart shows five potential starters listed for three linebacker positions.
That means one of the Hawkeyes' biggest offseason concerns remains unsettled.
Or does it?
"I don't think you can have too many good linebackers," Alston said. "We all just have to work on being interchangeable, all three positions.
"So we can just go out there and be as effective as possible."
The heart of Iowa's defense will be tested Saturday in an 11 a.m. season-opener against Northern Iowa.
Alston, a senior, is set at middle linebacker. Travis Perry and Bo Bower are co-starters on the outside. Reggie Spearman and Josey Jewell share the weak-side spot.
"I'm not sure what we'll do right now," coach Kirk Ferentz said, "but it's probably fair to say they'll all play.
"I think it's probably going to take some game experience to find out who really rises."
Bower and Jewell, both redshirt freshmen, have already risen from humble beginnings.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Bower joined the Hawkeyes as a walk-on and received a scholarship last week.
Jewell, who stands 6-2 and 225, was among the last members of Iowa's 2013 recruiting class.
"They're really smart and they have no hesitation," Alston said. "I just want them to react. I don't want them to do any thinking at all."
It's Alston who will direct traffic.
"I'm the old guy out here," Alston said. "I just want to make sure they're in the right position to make plays."
All of the Hawkeye linebackers are trying to fill a void.
James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey combined for 323 tackles in 2013, establishing themselves as NFL prospects.
Alston, who appeared in all 13 games last season, was the only clear heir apparent. Everything else was a bit of a crapshoot.
"Any time you have new players enter the mix, you've got work to do," Ferentz said. "Until you start playing games; that's really when you find out about the personality of your team and how things are going to materialize, how guys are going to react."
Spearman arrived in Iowa City a year ago, along with Bower and Jewell, but his raw abilities made it difficult for coaches to redshirt him.
The 6-3, 230-pound Spearman played in nine games as a true freshman, often on third downs. He recorded 10 tackles.
"They're all kind of the same, they're all kind of different," Ferentz said. "All three of them we liked in recruiting and really thought they had good potential. Then, it's a matter of how quickly they're going to come along.
"In Reggie's case, he was the furthest ahead last August … In the spring (Bower and Jewell) really started to emerge and it started looking like they could maybe fit in somewhere, somehow, some way."
Now, it's a matter of getting everyone to fit into the defense.
"We have a lot of guys who have never played outside of the kids' day scrimmage," Ferentz said. "It's going to be an adventure and a journey."
Alston is ready for the ride.
"It just takes time getting that chemistry going," Alston said. "We're all close friends off the field and I think that's going to translate on to the field.
"So I don't think it's going to be that big of a transition."