Sizing up Iowa's cornerbacks: Top five are untested but confident

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Depth at cornerback is a concern for Kirk Ferentz as he heads into his 20th season as Iowa’s head football coach.

Gone to the NFL is last year’s breakout star at that position, Josh Jackson. The next most experienced cornerback, Manny Rugamba, decided to transfer this summer.

That leaves fourth-year junior Michael Ojemudia to hold down the right cornerback spot. Behind him are four players in their first or second college seasons, led by starting left cornerback Matt Hankins, a sophomore.

RELATED:Hankins quickly earning trust as Iowa's latest young starting CB

Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia (left) talks with safety Amani Hooker during Saturday's Kids Day scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium. Ojemudia is the elder statesman of the Hawkeye cornerbacks, and feels the pressure to set the standard.

Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker said last week that there’s still open competition for those starting jobs.

“I’d like to see some of these other guys, if they can beat (Hankins and Ojemudia) out, then I know we’re going to be a better defense than what we have right now,” Parker said.

“I think I have enough guys that you can go ahead and win with.”

Iowa has been aggressively recruiting talent in the defensive backfield in recent years. That’s because of the challenge in defending spread offenses, Parker said. It has provided a strong pipeline of options at cornerback, and also on special teams, where many of the young players will get their first shot at playing time.

Two weeks away from the Sept. 1 season opener, here’s a look at Parker’s top five cornerbacks:

MATT HANKINS: The 6-foot-1 native of Texas earned Rugamba’s starting spot in the final weeks of his true freshman season, registering 21 tackles and showing he belonged in wins over Nebraska and Boston College. He’s got the length Parker desires in his cornerbacks, and the mental toughness. He’s a solid option. This year, we’ll learn how high his ceiling is and whether he can become a playmaker along the lines of Jackson.

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MICHAEL OJEMUDIA: He started three games last season, with a career-high eight tackles in a loss at Michigan State. But there was concern about how dedicated he was to becoming a better player. Parker said he’s seen a new Ojemudia emerge this offseason. “He’s really taken his craft and improved it, improved his footwork,” Parker said. “I’ve really seen a little more serious part of him. Now that he’s running with the ‘1s,’ he’s more confident.” Ojemudia acknowledged that he’s feeling more pressure as the oldest cornerback on the roster. “I want to seize the opportunity this season,” he said. “Sometimes (last season), I was extra focused. Sometimes I would daze off a little bit. So mentally is my biggest challenge, not anything with technique or physical.”

MORE:Establishing trust pivotal for Hawkeyes' fledgling linebacker unit

JOSH TURNER: The redshirt freshman moved up the depth chart when Rugamba departed and now appears to be the first option when the Hawkeyes want to use a nickel defense. In Saturday’s scrimmage, Turner was the fifth defensive back in those situations, lining up on the perimeter with Hankins heading into the slot. Ojemudia said he could sense last year that Turner was going to be a good player. It looks like he’ll get the chance to show that from the outset of this season.


JULIUS BRENTS: At 6-foot-2, the true freshman from Indiana has the best size among Iowa’s cornerbacks. He showed it off Saturday, handling wide receivers in both 7-on-7 drills and the scrimmage. Parker had high praise for his rookie, who is a near-lock to see extensive playing time this season, on special teams if nothing else. “He’s long and strong. He’s a guy that pays attention to detail and gives great effort. He’s a very talented person and understands what he needs to do. I think he’ll be the next guy,” Parker said of Brents.

KIDS DAY:Three rookies stand out on Iowa's defense during scrimmage

TREY CREAMER: Listed as a second-stringer behind Hankins, the redshirt freshman was part of the third and even fourth unit in Saturday’s scrimmage. But he’s clearly among the top five in Parker’s estimation. “If you’ve seen our practice, all of them are in the mix right now,” Ojemudia cautioned when asked about a pecking order at cornerback beyond the starters. Creamer said he struggled to adjust to college football a year ago and had a habit of letting mistakes linger. “I was really down on myself last year when I made a bad play. I’d just be down on myself for a couple of plays and I really couldn’t bounce back from it,” he said. “I feel like there’s some things I have to do to earn that No. 3 (cornerback) spot. I’ve got a lot of work to do if I want to see the field. I know there’s some spots I need to better mentally and just my footwork in certain situations. But if I get all that together and show consistently that coach can trust me and play me on the field, then I can go with it from there.”

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