Iowa football: Staff 'feels comfortable' if freshman Dillon Doyle plays middle linebacker

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

High-end help is on the way for Iowa’s banged-up defense.

By next week’s Homecoming game against Maryland, four key starters could be back to full strength — including linebackers Jack Hockaday and Nick Niemann.

Until then, though, it’s every hand on deck for Saturday’s game at Indiana (11 a.m., ESPN2). And that might involve yet another true freshman.

Iowa middle linebacker Jack Hockaday, right, and outside linebacker Nick Niemann have a "real good chance" to return from knee injuries next week against Maryland, assistant defensive coordinator Seth Wallace told the Register.

Iowa linebackers coach and assistant defensive coordinator Seth Wallace covered it all in an informative interview Wednesday night’s appearance on “Hawk Central” radio with the Register's Mark Emmert and Chad Leistikow.

So much is going on at middle linebacker.

Kristian Welch on Saturday is in line to become the Hawkeyes’ third starter at middle linebacker through six games, with Hockaday (left knee) likely out and Amani Jones (targeting penalty) suspended for the first half.

But Wallace opened the door to the possibility that true freshman Dillon Doyle, the son of Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle, could see the field. Since enrolling in January, Dillon Doyle (6-foot-3, 227 pounds) has been ascending quickly and has been on middle-linebacker standby in case the veterans didn’t pan out.

Hockaday’s emergence has allowed Doyle to play in only one game this season. He could play in up to four without burning a year of eligibility under the NCAA’s new red-shirt rule.

"We’re fortunate with the rule change,” Wallace said. “If we need to, I feel comfortable — our staff feels comfortable — that Dillon Doyle could run our defense from a linebacker standpoint. So, we’re good there. And you never know, you may see him this Saturday."

Oh, to be a fly on the locker-room wall.

Reading between the lines, it sure sounds like coaches plan to insert Jones to start the second half. Getting to that point, though, is a task in itself.

Jones can take part in pregame warm-ups but must stay in the locker room during the first half Saturday. Wallace thought Jones would be able to study the TV broadcast, like safety Jordan Lomax did at Pittsburgh in 2014 when he was facing a first-half targeting suspension.

How will Jones, a fiery and affable junior, handle that wait?

“I hope there’s somebody there with him,” Wallace chuckled. “However, I can assure you this guy can strike up a conversation with a wall. He’s different in so many good ways.”

About those injured guys …

Before they suffered knee injuries, Niemann (outside) and Hockaday (middle) were proving to be Iowa's two best linebackers. Wallace didn’t totally rule either player out for Saturday’s game, but offered an encouraging quote on their recovery.

“Both guys have a real good shot next week against Maryland,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s out of the woods this week for either one of them. But yeah, definitely next week.”

Freshmen cornerbacks grew up quickly.

True freshmen cornerbacks Julius Brents and Riley Moss impressed the Hawkeye staff so much at Minnesota that they might be out there again Saturday — even as Matt Hankins (multiple injuries) and Michael Ojemudia (hamstring) are nearing full strength.

“They just kept playing and they kept playing,” Wallace said of Brents and Moss, who combined for three interceptions in their first career starts. “And by the end of the game, you could have looked at either one of them and said they were player of the game for us defensively.”

High praise indeed. So with four guys healthy this week, who starts?

"With two guys coming back from injury, you’ve got to be real careful with where they’re at; what their percentage of health is,” Wallace said. “And then you’ve got to look at how much they’ve practiced during the course of the week.

“We’re seeing an explosive (Indiana) offense that has had a lot of success throwing the ball. When you’re talking about defensive backs, they’ve got to see those pictures during the course of the week in order to feel comfortable. And so do the coaches, for that matter. I think it’s still a wait and see.”