Editor’s note: The Iowa football team finished spring practice last Saturday, but the allhawkeyes position series continues with a closer look at the defensive line.
This is part six of a nine-part series. The final three position stories will focus on linebackers, defensive backs and special teams and will be published within the next few days.
IOWA CITY, Iowa – For nearly five months, it was impossible to evaluate the Iowa defensive line because you didn’t know if Drew Ott would be a part of it next season.
But we do now.
Ott has moved on after losing his medical-hardship appeal for a fifth season of eligibility.
Fellow defensive end Nate Meier also exhausted his eligibility last season, leaving another huge gap to fill on exterior of the defensive line.
The good news is that sophomore Parker Hesse started nine games at defensive end last season when Ott was injured and held his own.
Iowa also returns both starting defensive tackles in senior Jaleel Johnson and junior Nathan Bazata, along with key reserve Faith Ekakitie.
Reese Morgan also coaches the defensive line, which is more good news, considering his track record.
“We have a good nucleus of guys that are doing well,” Morgan said during spring practice. “The good thing you feel about it is you see guys helping each other in the room and trying to do things the way they’re supposed to be doing them."
The 6-foot-4, 310-poun Johnson is Iowa’s most experienced defensive lineman. He started all 14 games last season and appeared in all 13 games as a sophomore in 2014.
Johnson plays with a mean streak and has shown flashes of dominance. He now has to show more consistency.
"Jaleel is an excellent player and he has a great ability," Morgan said to reporters in late March. "But if he was up here right now, he would say I have a lot of work to do to get better. The good thing about it is he’s playing with a lot of energy, playing hard, and he’s our most experienced defensive lineman and has a chance to be good."
Bazata also started all 14 games last season and finished with 42 tackles, including five for losses and three sacks.
His statistics were almost identical to what Johnson compiled last season, which included 45 tackles, 5 ½ tackles for loss and four sacks.
Combine Johnson and Bazata with Ekakitie and Iowa has a solid triumvirate at defensive tackle.
The biggest concern is finding a new starter at defensive end opposite of Hesse. Former Cedar Rapids Xavier standout Matt Nelson was listed as the other starter throughout spring practice.
“Matt has made a big jump of being more aggressive in his pass rush,” said Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker. “I think he understands the quickness and going out there and doing it every day, and getting his technique down. He has excelled and became a better player during the first 13 days.”
Redshirt freshman Anthony Nelson (no relation to Matt Nelson) also will be in the mix for playing time at defensive end. Anthony Nelson stands 6-7, while Matt Nelson is the tallest player on the team, listed at 6-8 and 275 pounds.
Both Nelsons were accomplished basketball players in high school.
Iowa’s defensive line two-deep roster
LE – Matt Nelson, 6-8, 275, Soph., Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Sam Brincks, 6-5, 270, Soph., Carroll, Iowa
LT – Jaleel Johnson, 6-4, 310, Sr., Lombard, Ill.; Faith Ekakitie, 6-3, 290, Sr., Brampton, Ontario
RT – Nathan Bazata, 6-2, 285, Jr., Howells, Neb.; Jake Hulett, 6-3, 285, Jr., Springville, Iowa
RE – Parker Hesse, 6-3, 250, Soph., Waukon, Iowa; Anthony Nelson, 6-7, 250, Fr., Waukee, Iowa