The Iowa football team took a big hit when it was announced that defensive tackle Darian Cooper was knocked out for the season with a knee injury.
Cooper, a redshirt junior, was expected to be Iowa’s super sub on defense this year. Cooper was entering his third year as a back-up, this year behind seniors Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis. Despite those two players being potential All-Big-Ten performers, Cooper was expected to see his fair share of playing time.
Cooper came to Iowa as a four star recruit. He was one of the most highly regarded prospects in his recruiting class for Iowa. Like most defensive linemen at Iowa, Cooper redshirted his first year on campus. He spent that year learning the system and getting his body Big Ten ready.
He played some as a freshman redshirt picking up 34 tackles (16 solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, two pass breakups, and one fumble recovery. He played in all 13 games last season but his statistics dropped to 18 tackles (8 solo), 1.5 tackles for loss, and a sack.
Since Cooper redshirted in 2011, he will lose a year of eligibility unless he can somehow qualify for a medical redshirt. Most likely next year will be his final year at Iowa.
He was supposed to be the man who stepped in if either starter Louis Trinca-Pasat or Carl Davis went down. Now that Cooper is out for the season, it will fall partly on sophomore redshirts Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie and redshirt freshman Nathan Bazata to take over when the starters need a breather.
Johnson and Ekakitie came to Iowa as arguably the top two recruits in their class. They were both four stars and looked to contribute immediately. So far though, they have played sparingly as they have been behind a bunch of talented defensive tackles. Ekakitie has switched from defensive end to tackle and now he is back at tackle. Despite all of those switches he is expected to step up this season if one of the starters goes down.
Johnson is somewhat of a Carl Davis clone as he came to Iowa as a big 6-foot-2, 277 pound tackle. Since he was used to being so much bigger than his competition in high school, he had a big adjustment in college. He has had to fix his leverage as it was awful as a true freshman. He has now grown to 6-foot-4, 310 pounds. The coaches have said that he has really come into his own recently so hopefully he will be ready to contribute.
Bazata has been a surprise this offseason as he was expected to be a big project. Iowa was the only school who offered him besides South Dakota State. The coaches have raved about his play this offseason and now he is the second string at defensive tackle behind Trinca-Pasat.
Because of Iowa’s two talented starters, the injury to Darian Cooper won’t hurt Iowa too much. The way it does hurt Iowa is that they don’t have the best depth right now. Johnson, Ekakitie, and Bazata are fine players, but they probably aren’t ready to be full time starters which would be the case if Davis or Trinca-Pasat went down. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen and hope that Cooper has a nice recovery.