IOWA CITY – Seth Wallace may be coaching the most experienced group of starters on the Iowa football team, but the Hawkeye linebackers coach sees room for growth this spring.
Starters Josey Jewell, Bo Bower and Ben Niemann all return, providing leadership and experience Wallace hopes will aid in the development of players currently working behind the three returning seniors.
“We’ve got guys with a ton of experience and for the most part, the guys who are in front, they’re staying in front,’’ Wallace said. “The biggest objective right now revolves around development. The group collectively, they’re motivated and they’re moving forward.’’
But, the process begins with challenging the three returning starters.
The group has combined for 84 career starts, including a string of 31 straight starts for Jewell at middle linebacker where he ranked second in the Big Ten with 124 tackles last season as a junior.
Niemann has started 27 consecutive games at the outside linebacker position while Bower has 26 career starts, including 13 games a year ago.
“There are always things to work on,’’ Jewell said. “Technique is a huge part of spring around here. It’s where the focus is and it creates a base for us to work off of all season. The time we spend now trying to get better with our foot work and hand placement, those types of things, they make all the difference.’’
For some, the learning curve is greater than it is for others.
Wallace said for experienced players, the challenges aren’t necessarily physical.
Jewell, Bower and Niemann will be tested mentally as much as anything as the Hawkeyes work through their 15 spring drills, including a 6:30 p.m. practice Friday at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines.
“Whatever stress we can put on those older guys, the veteran guys, it’s going to be better for us because we can create a really tough situation for them to be in,’’ Wallace said. “If they push through it, then they’re certainly getting better individually and we’re getting better defensively.’’
That, Jewell said, remains the bottom line.
“This time of year is all about us taking that next step, finding ways to take our games to the next level,’’ he said. “That means different things to different guys depending on where you are at on the depth chart but spring is all about growth.’’
There are players on the depth chart at linebacker who have gained experience on special teams and Wallace is getting a closer look at several players who redshirted last fall as true freshmen.
Junior Jack Hockaday and sophomore Angelo Garbutt are listed behind Jewell at middle linebacker, sophomore Amani Jones and junior Aaron Mends are behind Bower and Niemann is backed up by senior Kevin Ward and sophomore Kristian Welch.
Jones and Welch saw action as true freshmen last fall and are joined by redshirt freshmen Kurt Taylor, Barrington Wade and Nick Niemann in working to rise on the depth chart this spring.
“There are some guys out there with length, speed and athleticism and it would have been nice to have some (of the redshirting freshmen) last year, but certainly we’re in a good position now,’’ Wallace said. “We’ve got a chance to get them better and see where they fit in.’’
Finding that fit includes lining up at times besides returning starters.
“You find a time when you put Amani Jones in there with the first group. You put Aaron Mends in with the first group, and you see how they react to that situation,’’ Wallace said. “The hope is that the guys in front are staying in front, but if for some reason we’ve got to make a switch, you have to be ready to make one.’’