Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri, left, runs from Iowa defensive lineman Dominic Alvis during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 31-27.(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Charlie Neibergall

IOWA CITY — When a knee injury sent Dominic Alvis to the sidelines last fall, the Iowa defensive end found himself dealing with more than physical pain.

Initially, he found coping with the mental side of being injured to be among the biggest challenges he faced before starting a five-month rehabilitation process.

“You put in so much time, you dedicate yourself to the sport and all of a sudden, it’s taken away from you and you are out of a job. That’s tough,” Alvis said. “It’s like, ‘What do I do now?’ Eventually, I took a positive step and worked on getting healthy.”

That has been a long, laborious process for the junior who had 30 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks through eight games last fall.

The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder from Logan, Iowa, believed he was beginning to come into his own when he was knocked out of action against Michigan.

“Things were starting to make sense, and then it was over,” Alvis said.

Now, things are starting again for Alvis.

He returned to a regular practice routine shortly after Iowa completed spring drills in April and has been cleared to resume full practice when the Hawkeyes open fall camp Friday.

To reach this point, he spent months working under the watchful eye of strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.

“He makes it hard now, so it’s all easier later,” Alvis said. “I’m really thankful now, but sometimes the workouts can be pretty tough.”

Alvis worked to maintain his conditioning during his rehabilitation, but said he fell behind on technique work while watching his teammates work this spring from a perch on a stationary bicycle on the sidelines.

He liked what he saw then and since returning to offseason work this summer, he has liked what he has seen from four incoming freshman defensive linemen on the Hawkeyes roster.

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“We’re young, but gosh dang, we can move,” Alvis said. “We were flying around last spring, looking good.”

Only four of the 11 players Iowa lists on its roster as defensive linemen are juniors or seniors, and for the second straight year, the Hawkeyes will be replacing three starters on their defensive front.

Alvis and senior Steve Bigach are the only defensive linemen Iowa returns with starting experience and they have only 13 starts between them.

To prepare for his return, Alvis has worked to add additional pounds. He played at 255 a year ago, but he is currently carrying 265 pounds and hopes to maintain that weight into the season.

“Ten pounds will make a big difference for me,” he said. “It will get me better leverage going against guys that weigh 300-plus and that will be huge. I’m ready to go.”