Kirk Ferentz has had several great defensive lines throughout his 25 years as head coach in Iowa City, but this year has a chance to be his best. It’s the most complete unit they’ve had in several years and is arguably the best position group on the roster.
Iowa returns two of their most productive defenders from last season at the defensive end spot. The first is Joe Evans, who is entering his sixth year in the program. Evans has played 45 games in black and gold with 13 career starts. Last season, he registered six sacks and two forced fumbles. That included the sack-forced-fumble-scoop-and-score he had inside Ohio Stadium to open the game against the Buckeyes. His veteran presence on the line is huge for the chemistry up front.
On the other end is Deontae Craig, who, despite having never started a game, led the team in sacks (7.5), tackles for loss (11), and forced fumbles (3) last season. He is going to be a force in the starting rotation for the Hawkeyes this year, and figures to put up strong numbers once again.
Interior Defensive Line
On the inside, there are a handful of very solid options for the Hawkeyes. However, there’s a question mark with one of Iowa’s best interior defensive linemen, Noah Shannon. He’s one of the players involved in the ongoing investigation for gambling surrounding the program. On top of that, Shannon has been injured during fall camp. At Iowa, Shannon has played 42 games with 28 starts and would be a veteran of this group if and when he plays this season. His absence from practice has opened up the door for other players to get quality reps.
At Iowa’s open practice on Saturday, Yahya Black was in with the starters in place of Shannon. He’s entering his fourth season in the program with 26 games played. Based on what we saw at practice, Black figures to be in that starting role depending on Shannon’s availability. Aaron Graves got in with the starters in this spot on Iowa’s third-down packages. He’s a true sophomore who has a bit of playing experience already. Graves was a four-star recruit in 2022 who played in 12 games last season. He recorded six tackles for loss and three sacks as a freshman. Shannon’s unavailability at the moment is giving both of these defenders a lot of time with the first-string defense.
Logan Lee is the other starting defensive tackle. He’s another senior along with Shannon and Evans up front. Lee has started 27 games with six starts in his career and had three sacks in 2022. This starting four on the defensive line is very experienced, even if they do have a sophomore in Graves starting for Shannon to begin the year. What’s even more impressive about the unit are the guys on the depth chart who can make a big impact this season.
Depth on the Defensive Line
Starting at defensive end, a couple of players who can make some noise are Ethan Hurkett and Max Llewellyn. Hurkett played in all 13 games last year, recording a sack and a couple of tackles for loss. He’ll be a redshirt junior this season lining up at the right defensive end spot behind Evans. The Hawkeyes will be using Hurkett more this season and expect him to have a significant role on the defense. Llewellyn is a redshirt sophomore who played four games last season. He’s a 6’-5” and 265-pound defensive lineman who will get on the field more this year. Llewellyn is listed as the second-string left defensive end behind Craig.
During the open practice session, another defensive lineman generated a lot of buzz among both fans and reporters. That was redshirt freshman Brian Allen. He was all over the field at the defensive end position, getting in the face of the quarterback consistently. Iowa’s offensive line was struggling to contain him all afternoon. Allen will be a young name to watch progress through this program as he already looks to be standing out.
Jeremiah Pittman at the interior defensive line will be another depth component of this group. He was not present at the team’s open practice on Saturday due to a family wedding. Pittman will be a redshirt sophomore this season and recorded a couple of tackles last season early in the year.
Iowa Defensive Line Deep Dive
When you take a deep dive into this group, there are truly eight to 10 players who could rotate in for this defensive line. It might be one of the deepest units on the team and one with some of the most experience. Setting the standard up front is a key piece to how Iowa’s defense is built. From the players mentioned here and from what we’ve started to see at fall camp, this defensive line figures to be one of the best in the conference, if not in the nation.