The Daily Iowan

Defensive line set to play key role for Hawkeyes

Nebraska+quarterback+Tanner+Lee+is+sacked+by+Iowa+devensive+ends+Parker+Hesse+and+Anthony+Nelson+during+Iowa%27s+game+against+Nebraska+at+Memorial+Stadium+on+Friday%2C+Nov.+24th%2C+2017.+The+Hawkeyes+defeated+the+Cornhuskers+56-14.+%28Nick+Rohlman%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee is sacked by Iowa devensive ends Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson during Iowa's game against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 24th, 2017. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers 56-14. (Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan)

Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee is sacked by Iowa devensive ends Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson during Iowa's game against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 24th, 2017. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers 56-14. (Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan)

Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee is sacked by Iowa devensive ends Parker Hesse and Anthony Nelson during Iowa's game against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium on Friday, Nov. 24th, 2017. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers 56-14. (Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan)

Pete Ruden, [email protected]

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There’s a glaring hole of inexperience when it comes to Iowa’s defense, and it can’t be ignored.

Josey Jewell, Bo Bower, and Ben Niemann are gone after finishing first, second, and third on the team in tackles, respectively, and their departures leave a void in a linebacker corps that was once arguably the biggest strength of the Hawkeye defense.

But this year, the biggest strength on the defensive side of the ball will be the defensive line, which will help a young linebacker group ease into things by closing up holes against the running game and putting pressure on the quarterback to help against opposing teams’ air attacks.

The experience possessed by the defensive line is something that no other Hawkeye position group has ​— Iowa only lost Nathan Bazata, and while Bazata was a veteran threat in the middle of the line, the Hawkeyes have the pieces to replace him.

Iowa returns three starters, and it starts with the ends. Led by Anthony Nelson — who recently earned a spot on the Bednarik Award Watch List, given to the best defensive player in college football — and Parker Hesse, the two are sure to get pressure on the quarterback, helping out the rest of the defense.

Nelson finished last season with a team- and career-high 7.5 sacks, earning third-team All-Big Ten honors, and Hesse ranked fourth on the squad with 4.

Hesse also finished the season with 10.5 tackles for loss, good for second on the team, and Nelson ended his year in third with 9.5.

Iowa also brings back former 5-star recruit A.J. Epenesa, who tied for second with 4.5 sacks despite limited playing time in his freshman year.

Currently listed as a backup to Hesse at right end, Epenesa can play on both sides and will surely gain more time on the field, which he should use to build on a solid freshman season.

Epenesa’s potential is off the charts, and as he continues to see an increase in the number of snaps, fans will likely see why there is so much excitement surrounding the Edwardsville, Illinois, native.

Matt Nelson, who will be one of three players representing Iowa at Big Ten media days on July 23-24, gives Iowa even more depth on the end, and he can also play some tackle.

In the middle, Iowa brings back Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff, who will be tasked with replacing Bazata.

Last season, Bazata recorded 51 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss, while Reiff and Lattimore combined to make 28 stops with 2.5 of those coming behind the line of scrimmage.

With Sam Brincks, Chauncey Golston, Dalles Jacobus, and Garret Jansen also vying for playing time, the depth of the Hawkeye defensive line becomes even more clear.

Like Nelson, Golston and Brincks both have experience playing inside and out, which also makes the defensive line deeper across the board.

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