IOWA CITY, Iowa — Dan Sabers rattles off what it takes to be a good linebacker.
A player needs to be tough. He must be smart and understand the game. He’ll be asked to make sure everyone is lined up in the correct position. There is a natural component of leadership at the position.
The more the Iowa City High football coach talks, the more it sounds like he’s describing part of the job of a quarterback.
That’s good news for his signal-caller, Nate Wieland. Linebacker and quarterback don’t appear to be similar positions, but what Wieland learned directing the Little Hawks offense will help him as he transitions to linebacker at Iowa.
“Especially with the way we used Nate as a quarterback,” Sabers said. “We expected him to be tough and run and make decisions and get us out of a bad play and make plays. There is no question, obviously he is a leader of the huddle. It makes sense to me.”
Wieland, who signed with the Hawkeyes on Wednesday, sees the connection, too. Being vocal is a requirement at quarterback. He’ll need to do the same thing at linebacker. Once the ball is snapped, both positions require the same thing — a player to quickly react to what he’s seeing.
“Football is a game of instincts and at quarterback you must have instincts to play that position,” Wieland said. “I think it’s just flipping sides of the ball.”
He’s certain throwing for 1,671 yards and nine touchdowns and rushing for 741 yards and 11 TDs as a senior give him one advantage over Iowa’s other linebackers: He already knows how to read an offense. He won’t need to spend time learning how to read keys.
Wieland believes his knowledge can give him an edge when reading a quarterback’s eyes or trying to decipher where a wide receiver is trying to go as he starts running his route.
“It definitely helps,” Wieland said.
At 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, Wieland will arrive on campus looking the part. Sabers is certain Wieland’s strength, quickness and football IQ will also help him during the transition.
“He has all the ingredients there to fit in and make a linebacker,” Sabers said. “He could be a safety as far as I’m concerned.”
It’s a possibility. Wieland played safety at Iowa City High, making 7.5 tackles last season. The Hawkeyes won’t rule it out, but they will start him at linebacker.
Coach Kirk Ferentz is usually slow to throw out lofty comparisons to former players. He wasn’t afraid, though, to mention former under-recruited Iowa linebackers who went on to the NFL when discussing Wieland.
“I see him in that Anthony Hitchens mold, or Chad Greenway,” Ferentz said. “I don’t want to say Chad, he’s played (it seems like) 20 years in the NFL. That’s not fair to compare a guy there.”
Wieland isn’t ready for the pros, but he isn’t a total novice at linebacker. He played there as a freshman and a little during summer camp as a sophomore. So dropping back into coverage won’t be a totally foreign concept.
“I know the technique of it,” Wieland said. “I can definitely fall back on all of it.”
— Nate Wieland (@NateWieland) January 30, 2017
He’ll need to supplement his game with a few new traits. Learning how to shed blocks is a skill Sabers knows Wieland will need to pick up quickly.
“Do you have that peripheral vision where you know you got to see the line through to the backfield?” Sabers said. “You have to develop that sense of this play is going here so I have to expect a down block from this lineman. He just hasn’t had that type of experience.”
The Iowa offer came on Jan. 26. Wieland didn’t commit until Jan. 30, but he knew the Hawkeyes would likely be his choice once the scholarship appeared.
He wants to make an impact as a true freshman and doesn’t care if it’s only on special teams. So once he committed he also committed to his new home. The same day he pledged, he altered his workout routine. The throwing drills were out. They were replaced with more reactionary and lateral movement drills.
“What I need to do, what I must emphasize, it changes,” Wieland said.
It turns out not everything at linebacker is just like quarterback.