The Hawkeyes had one of the nation’s top defenses last season. The group was led by safeties Jack Koerner and Dane Belton, alongside Matt Hankins at cornerback. All three have now signed with NFL organizations. Iowa’s next man in at secondary will make room for some new, but familiar faces. The combination of returning experience and young talent will make for a fluid transition into the 2022 season for Phil Parker’s secondary.
Cash and LEO
Heading into the Spring scrimmage, junior Sebastian Castro was listed as the team’s starter at “cash.” Belton’s former position on defense is a unique blend between cornerback, safety, and outside linebacker. In a 4-2-5 defense, the fifth defensive back is where this “cash” position shows up. Castro made his first start at strong safety in the Citrus Bowl last January and recorded one tackle. He saw action in every game last year and impressed during Spring camp. His first-team listing is significant given the competition and complexities of the position. This season will be Castro’s 4th year in the program as a redshirt junior.
In a 4-3 defense, Jestin Jacobs will come in as the LEO. This position is essentially an outside linebacker role who has the ability to line up on the line of scrimmage. The junior saw action in every game last year including eight starts at the position. He recorded 53 tackles last season and recorded a forced fumble against Iowa State that resulted in a scoop-and-score touchdown. Jacobs and Belton shared the position last year. Although Jacobs is hardly a new face to the defense, he’ll take the full-time starting role in this position, adding to an already-stacked linebacker group.
Replacing Hankins at cornerback is junior Jermari Harris. Last season, Harris was catapulted into the starting role after injuries to Riley Moss and Terry Roberts. He made the most of his starts, recording four total interceptions, including one in each of the final three games.
Harris had the best game of his young career against Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl. Against one of the better passing teams in the nation, Harris made four tackles, along with an interception and two pass breakups. He allowed just 18 yards in coverage and earned an 87.3 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus. The Chicago native stood out in the defensive secondary at the end of last season and earned his starting role heading into 2022.
The former three-year starter and clear-cut leader of the Hawkeye defense was Koerner. He’ll now suit up for the New Orleans Saints. His replacement is former walk-on and Iowa native, Quinn Schulte. The junior saw action in several games last season but did not record a start. Schulte’s best game came against Maryland in early October. The safety hauled in his first career interception, returning it 42 yards into Maryland territory. Schulte will have big shoes to fill when it comes to replacing one of Iowa’s best safeties in recent history. He’s been surrounded by great defenders for four seasons in Iowa City and has the football IQ to become another staple in Parker’s secondary.
Iowa’s Next Man In: Secondary
Replacing players in one of the nation’s top defenses is not typically a seamless task. That’s not to say that there won’t be challenges while integrating some new faces. The Hawkeyes have the luxury of replacing high-quality defenders with high-quality defenders for this upcoming season.
Jacobs knows his position well and will help comprise arguably one of the best linebacker groups in the country. Castro and Schulte in the secondary have both impressed in Spring camp and are ready to become full-time starters. Harris will complement the talents of Moss on the opposite side to make a stingy cornerback room. When Cooper DeJean and Xavier Nwankpa’s names are added to this list, Iowa’s secondary, yet again, looks like it will be one of the best nationally.