Iowa takeaways: Time for Desmond King to play offense?

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa all-American cornerback Desmond King already plays the most game snaps of any Hawkeye. He doesn’t leave the field on defense, and he’s the team’s primary kickoff and punt returner.

He’s willing to do even more.

“I would like to play offense, for sure,” he said Tuesday.

But don’t bet on it happening.

“We could do it, but … there's only so many snaps a guy can play,” coach Kirk Ferentz said of the possibility. “I know Gordie Lockbaum did it back in (the 1980s for Holy Cross), but that's pretty hard to do.”

It’s already being done in the Big Ten Conference.

Desmond King has racked up 343 yards on 12 kickoff returns this season, and 173 yards on 17 punt returns.

Michigan uses its most dynamic player, linebacker Jabrill Peppers, on offense, defense and special teams. Peppers leads the country in punt return yards (with 249) and has five carries for 98 yards and two touchdowns as a running back. Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said this week in his “humble opinion, we're looking at a Heisman Trophy winner.”

King has had some dynamic returns himself, ranking third in the Big Ten in kickoffs (28.6 yards per runback) and fourth in punts (10.2 per return).

The 5-foot-11, 203-pound senior has made his interest known, but “the question hasn’t popped up back to me," he said. "When it does, I’ll seize the opportunity.”

Ferentz didn’t completely rule out the possibility, and even brought up former Hawkeye (and now Green Bay Packer) defensive back Micah Hyde as a comparison.

“I think to this day if Micah had played offense, he would have been our all-time leading receiver,” Ferentz said. “I believe that. (But) I don't think he'd be playing in the NFL right now.”

If King could help inject the Hawkeyes with three to five offensive plays per game, even if he's just a decoy, it’s worth considering. Right, New Kirk?

“He’d … probably be pretty good at it, quite frankly,” Ferentz said. “Maybe we need to think about it. I don't know.

“It's a lot easier said than done. He's working hard on defense, first and foremost. That's a really important position he plays.”

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Cerebral Josey

Iowa middle linebacker Josey Jewell always seems to know the opponent’s playbook. And there are reasons for that.

No. 1, he’s a smart guy. The business/environmental studies major is developing an invention to create GPS-based, virtual cattle fencing — similar to underground, invisible dog fences. It’s an idea he got from conversations with his father, Bobby, who operates their 1,200-plus-acre family farm.

No. 2, Jewell spends extra, extra time on film study. He usually evaluates his own performance on Saturday nights after games, then starts diving into the next opponent (this week, Purdue) on Sunday. He continues that study throughout the week to pick up tendencies.

“It depends on the week. Sometimes you can get a good half-hour in per day, by yourself, looking at film. Some days, you can get even more,” said Jewell, Iowa’s leader with 54 tackles despite missing all but one series of the season opener. “Some days if you have tests or a lot of schoolwork … you might not get any in.”

With mid-semester exams taking place, this is one of the tougher weeks to find time.

About that cattle-fencing project? On the back burner.

“I know where most of my focus needs to be, and that’s football and school right now,” Jewell said. “The project comes third.”

DTs 'make our defense go'

Iowa's rushing defense was a hot topic again, as it has been every Tuesday. Except this time, it was being praised.

The Hawkeyes limited Minnesota to 102 rushing yards, the lowest ground-game total they've allowed in almost a year (51 on Oct. 17, 2015, at Northwestern). Better yet, no big plays.

"It was (a long of) 11 (yards), and it was on third-and-19, so it didn't kill us," Ferentz said. "It hurt field position a little bit. But that was a big improvement from the other five weeks. Those long runs are just hard to watch."

The biggest difference? The ability of defensive tackles Nathan Bazata, Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie to win battles against Minnesota's offensive linemen to free up Iowa's linebackers to make plays.

“If you clog the middle, it really makes a difference," outside linebacker Ben Niemann said. "The better they play, the better we play. They really make our defense go.”

Kind words for ‘Sheriff Ron’

Ferentz opened Tuesday’s news conference with a personal touch, commending the life of Ron Stewart, the team's director of football security from the 1982 season (with Hayden Fry) through 2014.

Stewart, who retired from his position as a Polk County deputy sheriff in 1997, died Sunday in Des Moines at age 76.

“Sheriff Ron” was a visible bodyguard of sorts for Fry and Ferentz, escorting the coaches to and from the field.

“He did it with great professionalism, certainly great passion,” Ferentz said. “I think what people probably don't realize — it’s hard to put a meter on this — but the amount of hours that Ron dedicated to the job. Certainly, you see him out there on game day, that type of thing. But he'd be with the team, meet the team on Friday. Then come back from a late road trip, and he'd drive back to Des Moines. So he really did it out of love for the program and for the people involved.”

A visitation is set for 5-8 p.m. Thursday at Hamilton’s near Highland Memory Gardens (121 NW 60th Ave. in Des Moines), and funeral services are at 11 a.m. Friday at Faith Lutheran Church (10395 University Ave. in Clive).