IOWA CITY — Next man in, again.
Somewhat surprised by the departure of cornerback Manny Rugamba, Iowa defensive backs say younger players in the secondary will need to step up to help the Hawkeyes overcome new depth issues at cornerback.
“It does leave us a little thin at corner, but that creates an opportunity for other guys,’’ safety Jake Gervase said Tuesday. “This program is built on that, stepping up when there is a need and there is need now.’’
Rugamba announced plans to transfer on Monday, leaving Iowa without its most experienced starter at cornerback.
His decision came as the junior who made eight of his 11 career starts last season found himself in a preseason battle for playing time, listed behind Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins at the corner positions on the Hawkeyes’ most recent depth chart.
Redshirt freshmen Trey Creamer, already listed behind Hankins on the two-deep roster, and Josh Turner now find themselves closer to the field, as do a group of five defensive backs who were part of Iowa’s 2018 recruiting class.
“We’ve got a lot of good, young players around here and this is a chance for them to grow up and into a role on the team,’’ safety Amani Hooker said. “The competition at corner has been good. We have good players. They may not have experience, but they all find themselves with a little more of an opportunity now.’’
Gervase and Hooker said that it will be incumbent on a group of veteran safeties, including returning senior Brandon Snyder and a sophomore who saw playing time last season in Geno Stone, to lead.
“We have to do what we can to help the corners out,’’ Hooker said. “We have experience at safety and the biggest thing we can do is get ready to do our job so the corners can concentrate on doing their thing.’’
Hooker said the timing of Rugamba’s decision was a surprise.
“You’re always a little surprised when someone decides to leave that has been a big part of our team,’’ Hooker said. “I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision, but he’s made it and now someone else has to step up.’’
With a different lifting schedule than a number of defensive backs, Gervase said he had little contact with Rugamba this summer.
“He obviously made a decision he felt was in his best interest,’’ Gervase said. “All you can do is wish him the best and hope he finds a good situation to move forward. And here, we need to move forward too and continue to work toward the start of the season.’’
Iowa defensive coordinator and secondary coach Phil Parker hasn’t hesitated to put young cornerbacks in starting positions.
Gervase sees good young talent in the defensive backfield.
“The only thing some of those guys lack is experience and there is a good group of young players who will get a chance over the next few weeks to earn their opportunity,’’ Gervase said. “It should be a pretty competitive thing and I do think that usually helps make everybody better.’’
LEADERS NAMED: Six seniors are among 12 Hawkeyes named Tuesday to the program’s Leadership Group.
Wide receiver Nick Easley, Gervase, defensive end Parker Hesse, linebacker Aaron Mends, defensive lineman Matt Nelson and offensive lineman Keegan Render are joined on the group by five juniors and a sophomore.
Hooker, linebacker Amani Jones, defensive lineman Anthony Nelson, fullback Brady Ross and quarterback Nate Stanley were selected from the junior class and running back Toren Young was named from the sophomore class.
Collectively, the group selected in a vote of Iowa players assists in formulating policies and making team decisions throughout the year.