Lattimore braces for bigger Hawkeyes profile as starting defensive tackle
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Cedrick Lattimore is no Jaleel Johnson yet, and he knows it.
But that doesn’t mean Iowa’s sophomore defensive tackle is shying away from the bigger role he’s expected to assume this year and the bigger expectations that will come with it.
“I’m ready to live up to it,” Lattimore said Wednesday of the higher profile that will come as a starter in the middle of the Hawkeye defense, after he played sparingly behind Johnson a year ago.
Lattimore was on the field for fewer than 90 snaps as a true freshman, while the senior Johnson gobbled up more than 600. Lattimore has spent the spring preparing himself for a significantly heavier workload.
And that has meant getting heavier. Lattimore is up to 290 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame, some 30 more than when he arrived on campus last summer from Redford, Mich., where he was primarily a defensive end at East English Village High School.
Lattimore moved inside shortly after getting to Iowa City, a move he said he was quick to accept and now embraces. He figures to be the one new starter on the Hawkeye line this year, but defensive coordinator Phil Parker said that doesn’t mean Lattimore will be relied on as much as Johnson was.
“As long as he's productive and he can go out there and play, we're going to play him. Sometimes, it's getting the guy rest through a series count, pitch count, whatever you want to call it. I think that's always good to make sure that, hey, he reaches a certain point, let's give him some rest so he can be effective out there playing. We don't want somebody out there being tired. We'll put somebody else in,” Parker said. “I think we're building depth there, so that's going to help us more when we start getting into the season.”
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Lattimore and senior Nathan Bazata are listed as the starters at defensive tackle, although Bazata is being held out of spring practices to let an ankle injury mend. That decision has allowed undersized sophomore Brady Reiff (6-3, 260) to get more seasoning, and Parker called him a “standout” in spring practices, which culminate with Friday’s 7 p.m. public scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium.
Garret Jansen and Jake Hulett are other potential options at the tackle spot, which doesn’t have nearly the depth that defensive end has right now.
Parker tempered some of the hype for incoming freshman A.J. Epenesa, a five-star recruit who has been touted as a potential starter at defensive end before he even gets to campus. Epenesa was one of the best high school defensive ends in the nation, Parker acknowledged.
“Whatever the best fit for him when he gets here, we'll have to determine that. … He has a lot of things to learn and to ask a true freshman as a defensive lineman to come in, and, hey, you're going to be our starting defensive end and we're going to move you inside and play a three technique or one technique. I think that's a little too much right now,” Parker said.
“Get him in the weight room with coach (Chris) Doyle, and see how he progresses and see if we can catch him up to speed to make sure. If we can get 15, 20 plays out of him during the game, I think that would be very good.”
Lattimore saw less than half of that duty last year. But he’s benefiting from some extra time this spring going up against a veteran Hawkeye offensive line, anchored by center James Daniels and guard Sean Welsh.
“We talk to each other before practices and say, ‘Look, let’s go, let’s get the tempo going, let’s get better today,’” Lattimore said of Daniels.
Welsh has been impressed by what he’s seen out of Lattimore, who has a tantalizing combination of size and speed. Welsh said that even though they’re competing against each other in practice, he’s happy to give a young defensive lineman some pointers.
“We know what gets us beat, what our weaknesses are, what we don’t like when a defensive player does. I think that advice and that information is kind of invaluable to them,” Welsh said.
“(Lattimore) is a phenomenal athlete. He’s a big guy and he’s fast, and I think once he gets some good playing experience, it’s going to help him out.”
Lattimore said he’s growing to recognize blocking schemes and orienting himself to life in the interior of the line, where things happen much more quickly. He has a fundamental goal for himself this season.
“Be very confident in what you do,” Lattimore said. “A lot goes on on the inside. You’ve got a lot of stuff coming at you. Just come off the ball.”