IOWA CITY – Our final position preview for the Hawkeyes focuses on the final line of the defense, the new-look secondary.
With cornerbacks Desmond King and Greg Mabin in the NFL and free safety Brandon Snyder sidelined with a knee injury, the passing defense is going to look a whole lot different in 2017.
The lone returning piece of the secondary is senior strong safety Miles Taylor. Taylor has been a regular starter for two years, but missed the better part of the final four games in 2016 due to an injury.
In 2016, Taylor recorded 45 total tackles, one of which was for a loss (five yards). He has been the under-the-radar guy in the secondary for two years, but it’s now his turn to take charge and be the senior captain.
With Snyder’s injury, the Hawkeyes turn to another redshirt junior, Jake Gervase. Gervase, the former walk-on, played in every game in 2016 on special teams, recording four tackles. As you probably know, his big “coming out party” was this year’s spring game when he picked off three passes and returned one nearly 60 yards for a touchdown.
Both Gervase and Snyder stand at 6’1 and weight close to 210-lbs. The depth chart does not lose size or versatility with Snyder’s injury, just experience. Production at the free safety spot should not drop off much, if at all.
The replacements for King and Mabin are junior Joshua Jackson and sophomore Manny Rugamba. Each of them performed well in their limited time last season.
Jackson is listed as the starting right corner back this season. He has appeared in all but one game over the past two seasons, playing behind the two senior DBs.
In 2016, Jackson recorded four pass break ups and 10 unassisted tackles. He made his first career start in the 2017 Outback Bowl and recorded a career-high three tackles, one of which went for a loss (three yards).
Rugamba was one of 10 true freshmen to see action in 2016, and his presence was felt down the stretch. He appeared in 12 games, including three starts in the final three games of the regular season.
In 12 games, he recorded 19 total tackles, 13 of them solo, while breaking up six passes. He also forced and recovered a special teams fumble.
Rugamba shined his brightest when the second-ranked Michigan Wolverines came to Kinnick. Rugamba got his first start at cornerback and recorded a career-high (at the time) four tackles, three pass break ups, and a key fourth quarter interception that helped Iowa pull of the remarkable upset.
“Josh Jackson and Manny Rugamba at cornerback each did some good things in game competition last year at the end of the season,” Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz said in the 2017 Iowa Hawkeyes Football Media Guide.
“They still don’t have a lot of experience; they are good prospects, but hardly seasoned veterans.”
Jackson and Rugamba aren’t the only new DBs that Ferentz is high on.
“Michael Ojemudia has done some good things,” Ferentz said. “I think we have three guys we could go with, so we have to develop some depth there.”
Ojemudia is currently listed as Jacksons backup at right corner. The 6’2, 200-lb junior saw action in all 13 games last season, primarily on special teams. He recorded five total tackles and had one pass break up.
The other three second strings listed are freshman Noah Clayberg (SS), redshirt freshman Cedric Boswell (LC), and sophomore Amani Hooker.
Each guy has clearly demonstrated a lot of upside, although the experience is still not there. Clayberg joined the team in the spring, Boswell was a redshirt in 2016, and Hooker played primarily on special teams last season.
It’s not fair to expect the same type of pass defense that King and Mabin have been providing for nearly three seasons, but I think this group could surprise us. These new guys have to start somewhere, and they will get tested out of the gates when Wyoming comes to town on September 2.
Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen is the number one NFL QB prospect for 2018. Iowa should expect the Cowboys to test the remodeled secondary before they try to run into the more experienced front seven.
Each player in the secondary has shown that they can perform in smaller intervals. We’ll get a good look at them in starting roles in week one.