'Expectations are high': Iowa football linebackers working on positional flexibility in spring
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Iowa linebackers coach Seth Wallace said there's separation between his starting trio of Jack Campbell, Seth Benson and Jestin Jacobs and the rest of his 12-man linebacker group.
Of those 12, only Campbell and Benson have more than 100 game reps on defense.
So, without a great deal of depth, Wallace is looking to foster as much positional flexibility with Campbell, Benson and Jacobs as possible.
Wallace said that, during certain parts of practice, he'll make his three linebackers rotate positions after each play so they can develop more versatile skills and see the field from different perspectives. His goal is to create three linebackers who can all adjust their game, depending on the opponent's scheme.
"The recipe is based on the opponent," Wallace said. "But through what we’re doing right now and with the position flexibility that we’re creating, I think that will give us maybe an opportunity like that to get a little creative down the road.
"We’re trying to provide opportunity for this team that we can put our best linebacker at each position."
Wallace said "it's not set in stone" where Iowa's top three linebackers will play. He said that will become clearer when August rolls around, and he'll pull back on rotating his linebackers during practice when that time comes.
But for now, with the whole team still going through growing pains, it makes sense to try different things to give his linebackers a strong foundation for the season.
For instance: If Iowa is playing a team with a spread offense, Wallace said, he'd probably protect Campbell by playing him in the middle and Jacobs and Benson on the outside. If Iowa is playing more of a downhill offense like Wisconsin, though, Wallace said he might try to find a way for Campbell to get up at the line of scrimmage as almost a stand-up defensive end, and then let Jacobs and Benson play inside.
All three would need to be comfortable in both schemes.
Benson, who logged 47 tackles (second-most on the team) and three solo tackles for loss last year, told reporters he's growing more confident with his positional flexibility.
"Each and every rep, take something and learn from it," he said. "Over time, that’s just going to help you be more confident. And then you can help other guys come along. They see the confidence in you and they increase their confidence in what you’re telling them, and they can play fast."
Campbell recorded 29 tackles, 3.5 solo tackles for loss and an interception last year. A four-star Cedar Falls product who picked the Hawkeyes over Iowa State in the 2019 class, Campbell has long been seen as a future star on Iowa's defense. He was named to the Register's All-Iowa Elite Team as a junior and senior, which is a rare feat.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has previously described Campbell as the type of player with an "extra heartbeat," something he also said about Josey Jewell.
"There’s something extra there," Wallace said. "You just turn on the tape and watch the way that he practices. It’s clear that there is a motor, there’s a little bit of something tugging at his heart to get to the ball. We’re anxious to get him back out there hopefully in a normal year and get back at it and see what he can do."
Wallace also thinks highly of Benson, who he sees as a Swiss Army Knife-type of defender, and Jacobs, another four-star recruit in the 2019 class. He likes what he sees early from all 12 of his linebackers, even though there are only eight career starts among the dozen, and he's encouraged that the depth will build.
He said he's noticed Iowa's linebackers have flown somewhat under the radar so far this spring. He's hoping that won't be the case in the fall.
"The expectations," Wallace said, "are high."
Matthew Bain covers recruiting, Drake basketball and pretty much anything else under the sports sun for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.