Kirk Ferentz answered two questions about defensive back Xavior Williams at Iowa’s football media day in early August.
Williams isn’t even on the Hawkeyes’ two-deep.
It’s a sign of just how deep Iowa’s secondary is heading into the season.
Williams was one of the top defensive backs in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in three seasons at Northern Iowa, and when the Panthers didn’t play a fall season in 2020, Williams decided to head to Iowa as a graduate transfer.
To have that kind of player — Williams had nine interceptions and 33 pass breakups in his career at UNI — on the bench shows the competition in Iowa’s defensive backfield.
“We do have a little depth,” Ferentz said. “I was going to say issue, but it's a good thing right now. We've got some depth in the back end. That's probably our most veteran position if you look at all four positions together.”
The four players at No. 1 at their respective positions — Matt Hankins at left cornerback, Kaevon Merriweather at strong safety, Jack Koerner at free safety and Riley Moss at right cornerback — are all veterans. Hankins, Koerner and Moss are seniors, while Merriweather is a junior.
Hankins, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season, has 168 career tackles and three interceptions. He has started 22 games the last three seasons.
Merriweather had five starts last season, a breakout season after a lost 2019, when he redshirted after playing in just two games. Merriweather had 23 tackles last season, along with one pass breakup.
Koerner was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last season, coming back from an injury suffered in an offseason boating accident to have 45 tackles and three interceptions. Koerner started every game last season and 11 in 2019.
Moss was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick last season after recording 43 tackles. Moss began playing as a true freshman and there were some growing pains. But he has had six interceptions in his career, including one for a touchdown last season against Michigan State.
The backups on the depth chart, other than junior cornerback Terry Roberts, are young.
Roberts came up with some big plays last season, recovering two fumbles while playing in all eight games. He played 12 games as a true freshman in 2019.
Third-year sophomore Jermari Harris, No. 2 behind Hankins, has played in seven games in the last two seasons. Sebastian Castro, No. 2 behind Merriweather, has played in just one game. Backup free safety Quinn Schulte played in three games last season after redshirting in 2019.
Cooper DeJean was one of the top recruits in the 2021 class. He led his OA-BCIG team to a state title in Iowa, finishing the season as a first-team all-state pick as one of the state’s best quarterbacks and defensive backs.
Williams had no work in the spring, which has set him back in the battle for playing time.
“The biggest thing for him right now is just getting a feel of how we play and how we do things,” Ferentz said. “Everybody does things differently. So it's like any new player to our team. You know, there's a learning curve that you have to go through. And you can do so much in the summertime, but really, it's being out there, practicing and getting in the system and getting the chance. And we'll have plenty of work between now and the first game where he hopefully makes some impact.”