IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa’s Reese Morgan switched sides of the football in 2012, moving from offensive line coach to defensive line coach.
What he faced was, in a word, challenging. Starters Broderick Binns and Mike Daniels were gone from the 2011 team. So were part-time starters Thomas Nardo and Lebron Daniel. Morgan inherited just two players, Dominic Alvis and Steve Bigach, with any starting experience. And Alvis was coming back from knee surgery.
Add to that a couple of defection-riddled recruiting classes, which disrupted the chain of development and depth Iowa football is known for under coach Kirk Ferentz, and Morgan had his hands full.
Two years later, the defensive line is expected to be a strength of Iowa’s football team in 2014.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Morgan said.
But if experience counts for anything, Iowa’s defensive line is light years ahead of Morgan’s first unit in 2012.
“I think we’ve gotten to the point where we are a more experienced unit, probably the most experienced unit on the team, with three guys that started almost every game and one guy who started half the season,” Morgan said.
Tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat started all 13 games last season. Defensive end Drew Ott started 12. The other defensive end, Mike Hardy, started five games after Alvis was injured. Collectively, those four have accounted for 95 solo tackles, 135 assisted tackles, 29 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks.
That’s a far cry from the 2012 team, and the five guys who started at least one game in the defensive line. One senior, Bigach, started the season with 10 career tackles, 17 assists, two sacks and two fumbles for a loss. Another senior starter, Joe Gaglione, had two career tackles and five assists. Darian Cooper was a redshirt freshman with no game experience. Trinca-Pasat had one assisted tackle. Alvis was the other returning starter, with career totals of 18 solo tackles, 14 assists, four tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks.
Improved line play in 2013 helped double the victory total from four to eight. Iowa allowed just 128.4 yards rushing per game, down from 162.1 in 2012. Rushing touchdowns dropped from 15 to eight, and yards per carry dipped from 4.1 to 3.6. This line has a chance to lower those numbers even more.
One of Morgan’s favorite sayings is “prideful simplicity.” It’s the foundation of his approach to teaching the game through repetition and fundamentals. Take care of your job, and the team benefits.
“You would be absolutely bored to death trying to watch us teach stuff,” Morgan said. “We actually think it’s exciting. We think it’s fun. And we know it’s the most important thing, to just go ahead and try to create muscle memory and do the same things over and over again until you get them.”
Morgan’s approach is also vital to developing depth, and sustaining solid line play on the defensive front for years to come. Getting that depth some snaps this season will be pivotal moving forward.
On the latest depth chart, juniors Nate Meier and Cooper are backing up Ott and Davis. Another junior, Riley McMinn, backs up Hardy. And sophomores Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie back up Trinca-Pasat.
“I’ll tell you what, Nate Meier is really coming on,” Morgan said. “He’s a tough son of a gun. He’s a 235, -240-pound guy taking on a 300-pound tackle, and I think he’s demonstrated to us that he can be an every-down guy. And I think other guys have stepped up. I think our young tackles are improving. Riley McMinn is coming around, and he’s finally healthy. I should mention each guy, because they’ve all really made some progress.”
The best way to chart that progress, Morgan said, is by watching tape of practice.
“Over time, a young guy like Jaleel, who really has ability and a desire to get out there, just understands that, ‘Hey, I’ve got to demonstrate in practice on a consistent basis that I can do this job,’” Morgan said. “’Once I get to the point where I can understand that, I can execute it, and I can be productive in the team framework of the system, that’s really good.’”
Desire, and execution, lead to playing time.
“We want guys that are hungry,” Morgan said. “If that young guy is better than a guy that started for three years, he’ll play if he knows what to do.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football