Big Ten: Jordan Lomax

We're taking snapshots of each position group with every Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the defensive backs.

Illinois: The secondary returns mostly intact from 2013, as Illinois returns starters at both cornerback spots (V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence), as well as Zane Petty, who started the final seven games at free safety. Taylor Barton, who opened last season as a starting free safety, also is back. Building safety depth is important this spring as Illinois must replace Earnest Thomas III. Barton will compete with Jevaris Little and others for playing time. The depth is much better at corner as Darius Mosely and Jaylen Dunlap both saw significant action as freshmen last fall.

Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana returns a lot in the defensive backfield but must improve after struggling to stop opponents in 2013. The Hoosiers also lose only one starter in safety Greg Heban, a mainstay during the past four seasons. There's a lot of experience at cornerback with returning starters Tim Bennett (senior) and Michael Hunter (junior), along with reserve Kenny Mullen (senior). Decorated recruit Rashard Fant, who redshirted in 2013, will compete for significant playing time. Senior safety Mark Murphy will lead the secondary, and sophomore Antonio Allen could fill the other safety spot when he returns from an ACL tear. Building depth here always is a priority at IU.

Iowa: The situation isn't as dramatic as the linebacker spot, but Iowa still must replace two productive players in cornerback B.J. Lowery and safety Tanner Miller, who combined for six interceptions in 2013. Lowery is the more significant loss, as he had 19 passes defended and three forced fumbles. The good news is Desmond King looks like a budding star and he will move into the featured role Lowery occupied. Jordan Lomax, Sean Draper and others will compete to start opposite King. Strong safety John Lowdermilk returns after a solid junior season. Lomax also could play free safety and will compete there with Anthony Gair and Nico Law, who both appeared in all 13 games last fall as reserves.

Maryland: The back four aims for better results on the injury front and on the field in 2013. Maryland returns both starters at safety in Sean Davis, the team's leading tackler with 102 last fall, and Anthony Nixon, but there should be competition behind them with A.J. Hendy and Zach Dancel. The cornerback position is worth watching this spring as Dexter McDougle departs and Jeremiah Johnson remains limited by a toe injury. Will Likely has opened the spring as a starter, and Alvin Hill could rise up after recording 24 tackles last season.

Michigan: The secondary took a step back in 2013 and all jobs are open even though Michigan returns two veteran cornerbacks -- Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor -- and some experience at safety. Jabrill Peppers, the nation's No. 2 overall recruit according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, will play a major role for the Wolverines this fall, whether it's at corner, safety or nickel. Junior Jarrod Wilson started the first seven games of last season at free safety, and Dymonte Thomas is a good candidate to start at one of the safety spots. Michigan should expect more from this group in 2014.

Michigan State: Will opposing offenses invade the No Fly Zone in 2014? Not if Michigan State can fill several spots, none bigger than Darqueze Dennard's at cornerback. Dennard, a unanimous All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award winner, departs to the NFL, and junior Trae Waynes slides into the featured corner role after a promising sophomore season. The competition opposite Waynes heats up this spring as Ezra Robinson, Darian Hicks, Jermaine Edmondson and Arjen Colquhoun compete. Free safety Kurtis Drummond boasts 21 career starts and enters 2014 as one of the league's top safeties. RJ Williamson likely will fill Isaiah Lewis' spot at strong safety, and Demetrious Cox provides depth.

Minnesota: Like the Gophers' defensive line, the secondary loses a huge piece in Brock Vereen, who played both safety and cornerback last season. But there might be enough returning pieces to fill the void. Cornerback Eric Murray had a very solid first season as a starter, and Minnesota also brings back Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, both of whom have starting experience. Leading tackler Cedric Thompson and Antonio Johnson finished last season as the starting safeties, and both are back. Senior Grayson Levine provides some experience in a reserve safety role.

Nebraska: An important spring awaits new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, who must identify new starters at cornerback, safety and nickel. The Huskers are replacing Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who combined for eight interceptions, 18 passes defended and 15 tackles for loss in 2013. Safety Andrew Green, who made 10 starts in 2013, also leaves. The good news is cornerback Josh Mitchell had an excellent bowl game and will fill a starting spot. Leading tackler Corey Cooper also returns at safety. There's not much experience at corner other than Mitchell, and Daniel Davie, Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose and others will compete. Nebraska brings back more at safety with Harvey Jackson, who made three starts in 2013, and junior Charles Jackson.

Northwestern: That the Wildcats' secondary could be one of the team's biggest strengths seemed laughable three years ago, but it could be true this fall. All four starters return, led by safety Ibraheim Campbell, one of the Big Ten's most productive defenders (262 career tackles). The depth at cornerback looks strong as starters Nick VanHoose and Matt Harris return, along with Dwight White and Daniel Jones, who opened 2013 as a starter and is coming back from an ACL tear. Traveon Henry should start alongside Campbell, and there are some promising young safeties like Godwin Igwebuike.

Ohio State: Pass defense proved to be Ohio State's downfall in 2013, and the Buckeyes' secondary will be under the microscope this spring as new assistant Chris Ash steps in. Ohio State loses All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby and will lean more on Doran Grant, who started opposite Roby in 2013. Ash also expects big things from Tyvis Powell, who will start at one of the safety spots. Safety Vonn Bell finally logged significant playing time in the Orange Bowl and could become a permanent starter as a sophomore. Veteran Ron Tanner and Cam Burrows also are in the mix at safety. There should be good competition to start opposite Grant, as Armani Reeves tries to hold off redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple.

Penn State: After a season of moving parts and inconsistent plays, Penn State hopes for a more settled secondary. Adrian Amos, who alternated between cornerback and safety last season, will lead the group and brings plenty of experience. Jordan Lucas likely will start opposite Amos at cornerback after making strides toward the end of his sophomore season. PSU loses some leadership at safety with Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong departing and will lean on Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle, both of whom have starting experience. Converted wideouts Trevor Williams and Malik Golden provide depth at cornerback and safety, respectively.

Purdue: The rotation from 2013 returns almost completely intact, but Purdue loses a very big piece in cornerback Ricardo Allen, a four-year starter. Cornerback Frankie Williams enters his third year as a starter and will slide into Allen's featured role, while the competition for the other top corner spot will feature Antoine Lewis and Leroy Clark, among others. Purdue has plenty of experience at safety with Taylor Richards, who started every game in 2013, and Anthony Brown, who replaced the injured Landon Feichter and had 69 tackles. Feichter also is back from a broken leg.

Rutgers: This group is anxious to turn the page after a season filled with personnel issues and poor performance (Rutgers finished 120th nationally in pass defense). Senior safety Lorenzo Waters leads the group after recording 62 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2013. Johnathan Aiken will try to start opposite Waters at free safety, although he'll be pushed by Delon Stephenson and Tejay Johnson, who started three games last fall. Gareef Glashen started six games last season and seems likely to retain one of the top cornerback spots. There will be competition at the other between Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell, both of whom started games as true freshmen in 2013. The most intriguing player to watch is cornerback Ian Thomas, who returns to the team after quitting midway through last season, one that he began as a starter.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are relatively young at both secondary positions but boast far more experience at cornerback than safety. Junior Darius Hillary and sophomore Sojourn Shelton started all 13 games at cornerback last season. Peniel Jean adds even more experience at the position. Safety is much less settled as Dezmen Southward graduates, Michael Caputo shifts to linebacker and Tanner McEvoy returns to quarterback. Nate Hammon and Leo Musso both played in all 13 games last fall as reserves. Newcomers like Serge Trezy and Austin Hudson could compete for time when they arrive this summer.
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Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Ian Thomas, Corey Cooper, Antoine Lewis, Mark Murphy, Jeremiah Johnson, Dezmen Southward, B.J. Lowery, Kurtis Drummond, Ibraheim Campbell, Peniel Jean, Chris Ash, Doran Grant, Raymon Taylor, Tejay Johnson, Nick VanHoose, Blake Countess, Michael Hunter, Derrick Wells, Jordan Lomax, Kenny Mullen, Adrian Amos, Charles Jackson, Frankie Williams, Nate Hammon, Cedric Thompson, Tanner Miller, Dwight White, Harvey Jackson, Armani Reeves, Malik Golden, John Lowdermilk, Andrew Green, Darius Hillary, Traveon Henry, Daniel Jones, Demetrious Cox, Jermaine Edmonson, Ezra Robinson, Trevor Williams, Daniel Davie, Taylor Richards, Jarrod Wilson, RJ Williamson, Trae Waynes, Landon Feichter, Lorenzo Waters, Cam Burrows, Gareon Conley, Dymonte Thomas, Jesse Della Valle, Darius Mosely, Darian Hicks, Nico Law, Josh Mitchell, Eaton Spence, Antonio Allen, Zane Petty, Rashard Fant, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, Godwin Igwebuike, Sojourn Shelton, Nadir Barnwell, Matt Harris, Michael Caputo, Jonathan Rose, V'Angelo Bentley, Jevaris Little, Taylor Barton, Tyvis Powell, Arjen Colquhoun, Eric Murray, Sean Draper, Anthony Gair, Tim Bennett, Jabrill Peppers, Ryan Keiser, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Austin Hudson, Jaylen Dunlap, Charlton Warren, Serge Trezy, B1G spring positions 14, Sean Davis, Anthony Nixon, A.J. Hendy, Zach Dancel, Dexter McDougle, Will Likely, Alvin Hill, Antonio Johnson, Grayson Levine, Ron Tanner, Leroy Clark, Leo Musso, Johnathan Aiken, Delon Stephenson, Gareef Glashen, Anthony Cioffi

B.J. Lowery came to Iowa because he impressed a rival coach. Before leaving the Hawkeyes, he wants to make a similar impression on his young teammates.

After playing understudy to Hawkeyes standout cornerbacks Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde, Lowery understands and embraces the role he now occupies for the secondary.

"My role this year on the defense is going to be major," Lowery told ESPN.com this week. "I'm about to be a senior, so I have to lead by example. I know all the younger guys are going to be following me, good and bad, no matter what I do. They're going to remember me."

[+] EnlargeB.J. Lowery
AP Photo/Scott Boehm"I pretty much lead by example," said B.J. Lowery, an elder statesman among Iowa's cornerbacks, "so if guys follow my lead, hopefully we'll be alright."
Lowery hopes he's remembered fondly as Iowa tries to rebound from a 4-8 season. After starting nine games opposite Hyde at cornerback last fall, Lowery established himself as the team's top cover corner this spring, a player capable of continuing a nice run of Iowa cornerbacks that includes Hyde (Big Ten defensive back of the year in 2012, fifth-round pick in April's NFL draft); Prater (first-team All-Big Ten, fifth-round pick in 2012 draft) and Amari Spievey (first-team All-Big Ten, third-round pick in 2010 draft).

The 5-foot-11, 193-pound Lowery recorded 50 tackles, including one for loss, along with an interception and three pass breakups. We named him Iowa's most indispensable defender, and he stood out during spring ball, including Iowa's spring game.

Lowery admits he struggled at the start of the 2012 season with some of Iowa's coverage concepts. But he made strides in the second half, recording a career-high nine tackles against Nebraska in the season finale. He has equal comfort with playing man and zone and has spent much of the offseason studying film with younger cornerbacks like freshman Malik Rucker.

"I'm not really a vocal guy," he said. "I pretty much lead by example, so if guys follow my lead, hopefully we'll be alright. I want to set a good example for those young guys coming in, so everything I’m doing, I’m looking over my shoulder to see who's watching."

Fortunately for Lowery, Doc Gamble was watching as he began to blossom for Hughes High School in Cincinnati. Back then, Gamble coached Withrow High, Hughes' top rival.

He took notice of Lowery, an all-conference defensive back as a sophomore and a junior, and contacted Phil Parker, then Iowa's secondary coach and now the team's defensive coordinator.

"That kind of changed everything for me," said Lowery, who had received an offer from Akron but not much interest from major-conference schools. "[Gamble] gave Coach Parker my film and told him to come down to my school. And before you knew it, Coach Parker came down and we talked and that's how the recruiting process began."

Lowery stays in touch with Gamble, now an assistant at Kent State, and often sees him at semi-pro games back home in Cincy.

"We used to go at it every year, my high school and his high school, so I guess I did somehow, I impacted him, and he reached out and helped me out."

Lowery also received help from Prater and Hyde, who exuded confidence and instilled it in others. Lowery wants to follow their lead this fall as he mentors younger cornerbacks like Rucker, junior Jordan Lomax, sophomore Sean Draper and redshirt freshman Maurice Fleming.

Lomax and Draper are competing to start opposite Lowery.

"I want to be a role model for the younger guys," Lowery said. "I want to be productive and let the team do what we plan to do this year, which is win."

Spring game preview: Iowa

April, 26, 2013
4/26/13
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Big Ten spring football wraps up Saturday as both Iowa and Minnesota hold their annual spring games/scrimmages. We're taking a quick look at each one.

First up, Iowa's spring scrimmage presented by Coke Zero.

When: Saturday, 3:05 p.m. ET

Where: Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa

Admission: Free. The west and south grandstands are open, and Gates A and G open at 2 p.m. ET. Parking is available in all university lots around Kinnick Stadium. Fans are invited to bring nonperishable food items for the ANF Food Bank Drive.

TV: Live on BTN2Go. Big Ten Network will broadcast scrimmage on tape-delay at 8 p.m. ET Sunday.

Weather: Partly cloudy, 60-64 degrees, winds at 7-9 mph.

What to watch for: Iowa has been more fan friendly this spring, and the theme continues with the spring scrimmage, which will be more like a real game with four 15-minute quarters and a scoring system for both the offense and the defense. Most of the attention will be on the quarterbacks, as Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard continue to compete for the starting position.

Rudock looked like the man to beat in the April 14 scrimmage in West Des Moines, although offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Wednesday that he has "no idea" who the starter will be. The race will spill into fall camp, but Saturday marks the final chance for the candidates to impress the coaching staff before the summer. Davis said each quarterback likely will get to lead his own drive in the scrimmage.

"They've all done some really good things," Davis said, "but they have not separated themselves yet."

Fans also want to see who emerges at wide receiver, where returning starter Kevonte Martin-Manley, Don Shumpert and Tevaun Smith are getting the most work. The running back rotation also will be a focal point as Iowa's coaches have talked a lot about using multiple backs on the field together. Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock are getting the most work, and Jordan Canzeri also is in the mix.

The defensive line also figures to be in the spotlight Saturday as Iowa works toward filling out its rotation. Tackle Carl Davis has impressed the coaches this spring, and true sophomore Drew Ott is working as a starting defensive end. Young players like Darian Cooper and Faith Ekakitie also will be in the spotlight Saturday, as Iowa looks to boost its pass rush.

"Faith, he's probably the most intriguing guy," defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. "He can play inside and I think he can play outside as an end. Very impressed with the way he can run and move. We moved him out here late a little bit at the end. He probably had four or five days of practice. So we're intrigued by putting him out on the edge."

Iowa is solid at linebacker but has a few question marks in the secondary. Cornerback Jordan Lomax, who missed last season with a shoulder injury, is in the mix to start opposite B.J. Lowery.
Big Ten spring football is finally in full swing as Iowa on Wednesday became the 12th and final league team to hit the practice field. The return to the gridiron can't come a moment too soon for the Hawkeyes, who went 4-8 in 2012, their worst record since coach Kirk Ferentz's second season at the helm (2000). It has been another offseason of transition for Iowa as Ferentz welcomes three new full-time assistants (Chris White, Bobby Kennedy and Jim Reid) for a second consecutive year. Finding a quarterback tops Iowa's spring agenda, and the team also needs to identify a center and more playmakers on both sides of the ball.

ESPN.com caught up with Ferentz on Wednesday to discuss the spring.

What are the main objectives for you guys this spring?

Kirk Ferentz: Like any spring, you've got a lot of players on a lot of different levels. You've got experienced players, and we're certainly counting on them improving and developing into leaders. You've got younger guys who have played, and you're hoping they're ready to play more proficiently. And then you've got other guys who, in some cases, are special-teams guys who have a chance to become offensive and defensive role players, or guys who haven't been on the field yet. So you have a lot of layers of players at different levels. The biggest thing is trying to gauge where they're at, and at the same time, you're trying to find out what they can do and pull a team together. It's always a fun period and a really interesting period.

How has the transition on the staff this year gone so far, especially in relation to last year? You had quite a long period without any changes on your staff.

KF: Last year was probably a little more dramatic with two new coordinators. Norm [Parker] and Ken [O'Keefe] were here 13 years, so they were big departures. We've got Phil [Parker] and Greg [Davis] both in their second years, and they're both tremendous coaches. What's unusual is how long we were all together at one time. Usually staffs don't stay in one place for 13, 14 years. Normally they move to the next channel and you have a new group of folks coming in. So it's a natural series of transitions. The way I look at it, we've had six new members join the staff in the last two years, and it's a matter of pulling everything together. But I'm really excited about all the guys who have joined. They're outstanding coaches, and it looks like they're all going to be great fits here at Iowa. At the same time, I'm very appreciative of the guys who had been here and helped us move things.

Is the transition harder for the players or the new coaches?

KF: There's learning on both sides. The players to have learn their coaches, certainly, and the coaches have a lot to learn about the players. That can be a healthy thing, too. It's a clean slate and a fresh beginning for everybody. For players, it's a whole new opportunity.

Offensively, it wasn't what you were hoping for last year. Is it a total reset this year with some new faces, or are there some things you can continue from last year?

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Byron Hetzler/USA TODAY SportsThough Kirk Ferentz lost his starting quarterback and center, he said he's more optimistic about Iowa's offense than he was a year ago.
KF: It may be ironic. We feel more comfortable and more optimistic right now than we did a year ago about the offense. The part that's ironic is we lost a two-year starter at quarterback [James Vandenberg]. We had James play a lot at quarterback and James Ferentz played like 38 games at center, so you have two guys right in the middle of things who aren't going to be there. But I look around at other positions and we've got a lot of guys coming back who have played in the system and who I think are more capable now of playing at a higher level than they were a year ago. That's got us excited. That being said, we've got to find replacements for both Jameses. We've got to find a replacement for Keenan Davis and Matt Tobin, to start with. But I look at the group coming back and as recent as late last August, we didn't know if Damon Bullock could play in this conference successfully, and we had no idea Mark Weisman could run the ball. So I think we're a lot further down the road than we were even eight months ago, 10 months ago.

When you and Greg looked at things, did you identify areas to target for the spring?

KF: Greg came in, this was all new to him, the players were all new to him. His knowledge of our personnel is a lot more extensive than it was a year ago at this time. And that was one of the reasons I was so attracted to Greg in the hiring process, his ability historically to work with a lot of different types of players and different types of offenses. He wasn't married to one system. There's nothing like experience, and he's got a real good grip on who our players are, what they can do and what we can do to help them be more productive.

(Read full post)

Iowa spring game recap

April, 16, 2012
4/16/12
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Our first set of spring game recaps finishes up with the Iowa Hawkeyes, who held a controlled scrimmage at the end of Saturday's practice at Kinnick Stadium.

Recaps can be found here and here and here. Here are some unofficial statistics.

Star of the game: Cornerback B.J. Lowery had a forced fumble, and he would have added an interception if not for a pass interference penalty on safety Nico Law.

How it went down: As is its custom, Iowa didn't hold a true spring game but rather a controlled scrimmage that featured some situational portions.

The big attraction for fans was the new offense, which predictably had some ups and downs. James Vandenberg completed only 12 of 30 passes, making an excellent throw to Don Shumpert for a 38-yard gain but not establishing much of a rhythm without his top receiver (Keenan Davis) on the field for the scrimmage portion. He had an interception nullified by penalty, while reserve quarterbacks Jake Rudock and Cody Sokol both were picked off once.

Running backs Damon Bullock and De'Andre Johnson both had big gains, including a 84-yard touchdown dash by Bullock that highlighted the scrimmage. Johnson had a fumble in the scrimmage, but both men eclipsed 100 rush yards.

"There's a little bit of mental gymnastics going on with guys on calls and formations and you saw us not line up correctly a couple of times," head coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters. "But that's part of the process. ... My sense is the guys knew there was a lot to learn coming in and I think they’ve been tuned in as a result of that."

Like the offense, Iowa's defense has a new coordinator in Phil Parker, but the scheme changes are less dramatic, and the unit showed some bright spots Saturday. The secondary should be better than it was in 2011, particularly at cornerback with Lowery and All-Big Ten candidate Micah Hyde. Corners Gavin Smith and Jordan Lomax also contributed big plays during the scrimmage.

The back seven will lead Iowa's defense entering the season, while the line looks to get healthy and build more depth during the summer months. Vandenberg should be fine by September, but Iowa needs to add more weapons around him, making running back, receiver and tight end interesting positions to watch. The offense remains a work in progress, but it could be a dynamic unit this fall.

The scrimmage produced some good news for the future as defensive back recruit Delano Hill, who was in attendance, verbally committed for the 2013 class.

Signed and sealed: Iowa Hawkeyes

February, 2, 2011
2/02/11
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Iowa has made it official and announced its 22-man recruiting class for 2011.

The Hawkeyes' class features players from 12 different states, including four from Illinois, three from Maryland and three from within the state. Iowa is bringing in 12 offensive players and 10 on the defensive side.

Here's the position breakdown:

DB: 4
DL: 3
LB: 3
OL: 3
QB: 1
RB: 3
TE: 3
WR: 2
  • Iowa didn't sign any ESPNU 150 prospects this year, but the Hawkeyes' class boasts several players just outside the 150 and good depth overall. Iowa signed three four-star players and 12 players who received grades of 78 or 79 from ESPN Recruiting.
  • The Hawkeyes' pipeline to the Washington D.C. area was a big story line this year and it paid off with three players, including two DeMatha Catholic High School teammates (DT Darian Cooper and CB Jordan Lomax). They join former DeMatha star Marcus Coker at Iowa.

Nebraska, Iowa pick up key DTs

February, 2, 2011
2/02/11
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Future Big Ten rivals Nebraska and Iowa both have bolstered their defensive lines on national signing day.

The Huskers added defensive tackle Todd Peat Jr. to their 2011 class. The 6-3, 295-pound Peat is a four-star recruit from Tempe, Ariz., rated as the nation's No. 24 defensive tackle by ESPN Recruiting. He picked Nebraska ahead of several Pac-10 programs and will spend this fall learning under one of college football's best interior linemen, Jared Crick.

Iowa's pipeline to DeMatha Catholic High School in the Washington D.C. area continued as defensive tackle Darian Cooper signed with the Hawkeyes. Cooper, who also considered both Michigan State and Michigan, joins DeMatha teammate Jordan Lomax with Iowa. Hawkeyes running back Marcus Coker also is a DeMatha alum.

The Hawkeyes were hoping to add another DeMatha product today as offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio announces his decision in a few minutes. Kouandjio is expected to head to the SEC, but you never know.

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