IOWA CITY — One word was all Reese Morgan needed Wednesday to gauge his satisfaction level this spring with an Iowa defensive line that is arguably the most experienced segment of the Hawkeye football team.
Asked if he is comfortable with the unit he coaches, Morgan didn’t hesitate before saying, “No."
Iowa returns starters at both tackle positions in Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat and a starter at end in Drew Ott to go with Mike Hardy, who stepped into the lineup late last season after Dominic Alvis was injured.
Despite that level of returning talent, Morgan said the defensive line has work to do and he points to its performance in its first public practice of the spring last Saturday at West Des Moines as an example.
“That first practice, we were Custer and the offense was the Indians at Little Big Horn out there," Morgan said. “… I think we’re at a point now where our guys understand the expectations. We’re trying to teach fundamentals over and over again and you would be absolutely bored to death trying to watch us teach stuff."
And while players may view the repetition in a similar fashion, Morgan said coaches view things a little differently.
“We know it’s the most important thing to try and create muscle memory and do the same things over and over again until you get them," Morgan said. “We are not there and we are not comfortable with it and I certainly hope nobody on our defensive line feels comfortable because the coaches don’t."
Morgan is comfortable with the potential and depth he sees within a unit that will be counted on to help ease the pressure on a group of first-year starting linebackers as they adjust to new roles.
That is where the consistency in execution factors into things and that is among the priorities Morgan and his assistant line coach, Eric Johnson, have as they work through to put the pieces together this spring.
In his 15th season at Iowa and beginning his third year as the Hawkeyes’ defensive line coach, Morgan rotated six players on the defensive front last season and utilized a seventh, Nate Meier, on special packages.
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Currently, Morgan believes he has as many as 11 players who are capable of stepping in and helping the Iowa defensive front this fall.
“But, they have to demonstrate it in practice situations, scrimmage situations," Morgan said.
They are getting ample work in against an offensive line anchored by tackle Brandon Scherff, and as offensive line coach Brian Ferentz put it Wednesday, “There’s not a better offensive lineman in college football."
Morgan, who coached Iowa’s offensive line before moving to the defensive side of the ball, doesn’t disagree with the opinion expressed by Ferentz.
“A lot of guys when they come back (for a senior season instead of opting for an early NFL exit), and they’ll just kind of go through things and not want to get hurt. Every rep, he’s trying to go 100 percent, trying to punish guys," Morgan said.
“Him and (end Drew) Ott, they’ve got a little thing going and while Brandon’s winning most of them, it’s really a chance for our guys to improve, a tremendous opportunity."