IOWA CITY — The answers are “yes’’ and “yes.’’
Yes, Iowa defensive line coach Reese Morgan has thought about the potential and possibilities that exist once highly-recruited defensive end A.J. Epenesa joins the Hawkeye program this fall.
And yes, Morgan’s attention right now is centered on developing Iowa’s next big thing from within the collection of talent currently working their way through spring drills with the Hawkeyes.
“I think our primary objective right now is to work with the guys we have and do the best we can at developing them,’’ Morgan said Wednesday.
“But in the back of your mind, you’re thinking about the guys who are coming in. I think (Epenesa) is such a unique athlete from a physical standpoint and his maturity level is pretty strong. Does he have the ability? We’ll find out for sure in August, but we certainly think he does.’’
From that point, things will sort themselves out.
“When he reports and others report, whoever the best players are will be the guys who are going to play,’’ Morgan said.
Morgan believes the physical make-up of the 6-foot-5, 270-pound Epenesa gives a recruit ranked among the top 30 nationally a chance to make an immediate impact.
“Very few times does a true freshman play on either side of the ball,’’ Morgan said. “… It’s just physically challenging, but I think he is one exceptional athlete that would have the ability and mental attitude to do that.’’
Before finding that out, Morgan expects to learn even more about the group of defensive linemen currently on campus.
Iowa returns three starters from its defensive front in the Outback Bowl — tackle Nathan Bazata and ends Parker Hesse and Matt Nelson.
Only Hesse was healthy enough to practice Wednesday.
Matt Nelson was moving with the help of a walking boot, Anthony Nelson watched in sweats and Nathan Bazata continues to work to heal an ankle injury that has slowed him since the final month of the regular season.
Morgan said medical personnel will let him know when the trio is healthy enough to return.
Meanwhile, other players are benefiting from additional snaps in practice and ultimately, Morgan hopes that will create the depth he wants across the front four.
“We’d really like to be able to play a lot of guys, especially this year given that we’re going to be a little young inside,’’ Morgan said. “We won’t have the size and girth that we’ve had before, so we’re going to have to play a few more guys inside.’’
Morgan said ends Sam Brincks, a junior, and two redshirt freshmen, Chauncey Golston and Brandon Simon, are showing potential as are two sophomore tackles, Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff, and now-healthy senior Jake Hulett.
“I think each day, each opportunity is going to provide a lot of different opportunities for different guys to experience getting on the field,’’ Morgan said.
All remain works in progress, however.
“Before we anoint them, we should make sure they can lineup correctly and do the things that they have to do in our team defense,’’ Morgan said.