October 2, 2023

Phil Parker encouraged by Iowa’s depth along the defensive line

Iowa Hawkeyes Football

Iowa Defensive Coordinator Phil Parker glances toward the crowd during a timeout in the fourth quarter of the Music City Bowl Saturday December 31, 2022 at Nissan Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

IOWA CITY, Ia. — After fielding one of the nation’s best defenses last season, Phil Parker is ready to reload the unit, considering the firepower the Hawkeyes are returning up front.

Parker is a defensive guru, who’s known for molding underrated prospects into All-Big Ten performers, and NFL Draft picks. He’s the longest-tenured Coordinator in the Big Ten, and understands that quantity is better than quality when it comes to holding down the trenches.

The physicality in the league is no joke, which is why Parker continues to develop depth throughout spring ball. With Iowa’s final scrimmage taking place at Kinnick Stadium Saturday, everything appears to be trending up with the defensive line in Parker’s eyes.

Despite the loss of projected first-rounder Lukas Van Ness, the group should remain one of the nation’s best. After all, Iowa ranked second in the Big Ten in tackles for loss per game in 2022. Not to mention the Hawkeyes dominated against the run. Iowa only allowed four rushing touchdowns the entire season, which ranked first in the FBS. Parker’s bunch was also 12th nationally in rushing defense.

The scary part for opposing offenses around the conference, is the fact that Joe Evans, Logan Lee, Noah Shannon, Deontae Craig, Aaron Graves and Yahya Black are all back up front. They combined for a jaw-dropping, 196 tackles, including 43 for loss and 22.5 sacks last year.

Having all of that leadership, experience and production at the point of attack, means Parker can get creative. Evans, Lee and Shannon really haven’t played much this spring as a precautionary matter. Parker been focusing on molding the younger defensive linemen in their absence, so he can add them to the rotation with the proven players.

“The thing with the guys up front, them guys are pounding every snap, everytime they’re taking collisions after collisions,” Parker said. “The more pressure you can keep those guys in, the better they’re going to play.”

Parker is a strong believer in keeping his defensive linemen fresh, because that’s when they play more efficient. The Ohio native emphasized how the strength of Iowa’s defense will be up front again. Depth always becomes an issue when the Hawkeyes navigate through the Big Ten meat grinder. So Parker wants his players to embrace that next man up mentality.

When it comes to the youngsters there’s a learning curve, and growing pains, but what annoys Parker the most is his players making mental errors. Iowa’s known for being fundamentally sound and disciplined on defense. Parker takes pride in that, because the Hawkeyes hardly ever beats themselves.

The first 10 spring practices were not up to Iowa’s standard to Parker. Players were sluggish, and the chemistry wasn’t there. However, the unit turned it up a notch this week, and that passion has impressed Parker.

“I’m not saying that we’re exact or we’re perfect, but the intensity, the attention detail, the communication, the effort and the desire to compete, I think that’s what you’re looking for.”

The 60-year old knows what it takes to succeed in the Big Ten, and will be operating with a loaded group up front this fall. If everyone can execute their job on the gridiron, the front four will be even better at mauling offensive linemen, sacking quarterbacks, and bringing down ball carriers in the backfield.

To Parker the group is more like a brotherhood instead of teammates, and building that bond throughout spring will go a long way this fall.

“I think we have potential, I think we have a good knit group of guys that like each other, like being around and playing for each other.”