IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa’s depth chart contains a few subtle changes entering its Big Ten home opener against border rival Northwestern (11 a.m. CT, ESPNU).
None of the alterations takes place on offense, three are on defense and one at backup kicker. Here are five observations from this week’s depth chart:
Matt Nelson secures left defensive end position
The sophomore from Cedar Rapids was listed as a co-starter alongside freshman Anthony Nelson in the first four weeks. Now, after starting the first four games, Matt Nelson is listed all alone at left defensive end. Matt Nelson has grown into the force that many in eastern Iowa expected when he was all-state at Xavier High School. Matt Nelson has four sacks to tie for second in the Big Ten. He notched his top two days in tackles the last two weeks. At 6-foot-8, he’s the tallest player on the team, but now he’s 282 pounds and thick. Chances are, he’ll man that position for several years.
Rotation shifts to right defensive end slot
Iowa remains somewhat inexperienced at defensive end with the Nelsons and sophomore Parker Hesse. But their impact has been overlooked a bit. Hesse, who replaced an injured Drew Ott last year as a freshman, missed Iowa’s game against Iowa State with a hamstring pull in the opener. Hesse registered a pair of sacks against Rutgers that were pivotal.
Anthony Nelson will stay in the rotation and play nearly as many snaps as the two starters. He’s the team’s most explosive pass rusher with 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. When Iowa goes to its raider formation on third downs, Anthony Nelson and Hesse are on the field at the same time. On an early third down at Rutgers, Anthony Nelson’s hard rush inside allowed Hesse to loop around him and sack quarterback Chris Laviano to push the Scarlet Knights out of field-goal range.
Joshua Jackson shifts sides
Iowa sophomore cornerback Joshua Jackson originally was listed as a co-backup with true freshman Manny Rugamba at right cornerback behind Desmond King. According to Monday’s release, Jackson has moved to left corner alongside Michael Ojemudia behind Greg Mabin. Although the Monday depth chart hardly is gospel, it makes sense to start looking in that direction.
Both King and Mabin are seniors. Rugamba is considered Iowa’s No. 3 corner. Jackson is No. 4. Both hit the field in Iowa’s raider unit, which includes six defensive backs. Among next year’s corner returnees, Rugamba, Jackson and Ojemudia are the primary contenders. This move makes sense to jump-start those looks.
Kicker chart down to two
True freshman Keith Duncan won the kicking job in training camp, and Iowa listed sophomores Mick Ellis and Miguel Recinos as co-backups. This week only Recinos sits behind Duncan.
Duncan has connected on all 17 extra-point attempts and hit his only field-goal try.
Kevin Ward only No. 2 at outside linebacker
Former safety Kevin Ward now is listed as the only second-team outside linebacker. For the season’s first four weeks, Ward joined true freshman Kristian Welch as co-backups. Welch played special teams on Saturday, and no reason has been given why he has dropped off the depth chart.
Ward briefly replaced Ben Niemann at linebacker for a few plays last week at Rutgers. Ward is undersized (6-1, 205) but developing into that hybrid position like former safety/linebacker Tom Donatell (now the defensive backs coach at UCLA). Ward has four tackles so far.