Takeaways from a day with the Hawkeyes' coordinators

Chad Leistikow
Iowa cornerback Greg Mabin (13) was benched during the TaxSlayer Bowl, and finds himself competing at left cornerback with Maurice Fleming. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker said the Hawkeyes “didn’t show up” in the 45-28 loss to Tennessee.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – It was coordinator day in the new Iowa football operations center, and Greg Davis and Phil Parker each delivered program insight in their first interviews since the days leading up to the TaxSlayer Bowl.

That game turned into a 45-28 gashing by Tennessee and led Parker — back for a fourth year as defensive coordinator and 17th overall at Iowa — to say Wednesday the Hawkeyes "didn't show up" in that Jan. 2 loss.

"We just didn't play Iowa football like we're used to playing — you know, fundamentally sound, making good tackles," Parker said. "We were in position at times, we just didn't make it."

That comment led to an interesting conversation about defensive pace. Hawkeye players, at the April 11 open practice at Valley Stadium, said that was an emphasis this offseason — and it showed that Saturday, as the defense shut down the first- and second-team offenses.

The "e" word came up, reinforcing that effort wasn't easy to spot three-and-a-half months ago in Jacksonville, Fla.

"When you go through your read progression, the most important thing is effort to the ball," Parker said. "You've got to make sure when you're tracking a guy, that you have your eyes on him, to track him — read his body language and see if he's going to cut back.

"Just taking off running and then you don't have your eyes on him, I think a lot of times our guys get in trouble. And you can see it. They just take off, 'Hey, let's run,' and they lose the ball. And most important is the guy who has the ball."

On top of lots of Davis talk about why C.J. Beathard was chosen over Jake Rudock as the No. 1 quarterback, here were Wednesday's other interesting takeaways:

Matt Nelson's name keeps coming up. The 6-foot-8, 270-pounder from Cedar Rapids Xavier is clearly the top backup at defensive end and will rotate in to spell seniors Drew Ott and Nate Meier. Reese Morgan raved about the freshman last week, and Parker said Wednesday, "He's just getting bigger and stronger, and we're really pleased with the way he's making progress."

Derrick Mitchell Jr. is "the surprise of the spring," Davis said. The converted wide receiver showed no hesitation in picking up pass-blocking, and has a good shot to become Iowa's third-down running back. "Anytime you have a guy like that (6-1, 212)," Davis said, "it creates matchup problems."

The role of Brian Ferentz as run-game coordinator has been a talking point since he was named to that post in February, and Davis said one of the changes has been with how tight ends line up — more "detached formations" than in the past to create mismatches. He could be talking about athletic-but-smaller George Kittle.

Three true freshmen receivers could contribute right away. Because receiver is one of the easiest positions for newcomers to pick up, Davis said Adrian Falconer (6-1, 180), Emmanuel Ogwo (6-0, 170) and Jerminic Smith (6-1, 180) would get hard looks. A big gap has been created between Iowa's top three receivers — Tevaun Smith, Jacob Hillyer and Matt VandeBerg — and their backups.

There's no winner yet at starting strong safety. Sophomore Miles Taylor and freshman walk-on Brandon Snyder continue to compete. Parker gave a lukewarm nod to Taylor, but it's not settled. They'll both get first-team reps in Saturday's 1 p.m. spring game at Kinnick Stadium.

Maurice Fleming has had a big spring. The junior from Chicago lost out to Greg Mabin in a three-way battle a year ago to start at left cornerback, and Fleming is back in the mix again. Asked if Mabin was solidified as the starting corner, Parker responded, "I think he is."