Iowa football media day notebook: Local players looking to make impact; Kaevon Merriweather proclaims himself as best dunker on team

img
Tyler Linderbaum speaks at media day on Friday.

By Tyler Devine

IOWA CITY, Iowa – It is rare for freshman to play on the offensive line at Iowa, particularly at the center position.

Tyler Linderbaum is poised to become one of the exceptions to that rule.

The Solon native is listed as the starting center after making the switch from defensive line during preparations for the Outback Bowl last season.

“There was a little learning curve there,” Linderbaum said. “The bowl prep, it challenged me, but it’s just something I had to keep working on, keep working on. The repetitions really helped me out.”

The 6-foot-3, 286-pound Linderbaum isn’t necessarily a stranger to the offensive line, having played both line positions in high school.

However, the position takes on another level of complexity at the collegiate level.

“There’s a lot going on, especially against college defenses you kind of have to know a lot more,” Linderbaum said. “In high school I wasn’t making any calls or any of that, so that’s something, just picking up concepts and all that.”

Linderbaum’s rapid succession at his new position comes as no surprise to junior offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs.

Wirfs, a native of Mount Vernon, competed against Linderbaum in football, wrestling and track and field in high school.

“I think his competitiveness, his drive to want to be successful (has helped),” Wirfs said. “He doesn’t want to be bad at something, he doesn’t want to be average, he wants to be great at everything that he does.

“I’ve gotten to play against him in three sports. I know how competitive he is and how seriously he takes things, so I don’t think it’s much of a surprise what he’s doing now on the other side of the ball.”

While Linderbaum’s teammates might be quick to throw praise in his direction, offensive line coach Tim Polasek is pumping the brakes a little.

“It’s working but he’s got to go still play a game,” Polasek said. “And we’ve still got to be better out here tomorrow on the field and on Monday. We’re not home yet. The transition has been good, it has been positive, he’s doing a good job but, I’m going to be honest with you, I’m going to be excited to go watch him play when we play Miami of Ohio.

“I’m excited to watch him play tomorrow. Every time something new comes up, it’s a teachable moment, he handles that well. That’s usually the mark of a really good football player.”

Martin happy to be home: After spending two years at Michigan, Iowa City West graduate Oliver Martin is back home.

Martin went to Michigan as one of the most decorated recruits to come out of Iowa City in quite some time.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Martin has submitted an application to the NCAA to be granted immediate eligibility rather than having to sit out a year after transferring.

While it makes Martin nervous awaiting the NCAA’s decision, he knows that it’s out of his control.

“The case is what it is and now it’s kind of out of my hands, it’s external,” Martin said. “They’re going to make a decision. It makes me a little anxious knowing it could go either way but I’m hopeful for getting my eligibility. I just know it’s out of my hands at this point.”

Whether or not he plays this season, Martin is just happy to be back in his hometown.

“It’s really great,” Martin said. “I’m happy being home, I really liked Iowa City, I liked growing up here, I liked this community and I liked the tradition at the University of Iowa. It’s something I want to be a part of. I’ve got a lot of my friends that I grew up with here, a lot of them go to Iowa. There’s a lot of great guys on the team so I feel like it’s a good fit. I’m really happy here.”

Doyle developing: Last season was the first of the new redshirt rule implemented by the NCAA that allows football players to play in four games but still retain their eligibility to redshirt.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Dillon Doyle said he benefited greatly from both the experience and the redshirt year.

“Last year was a really good year to get under my belt,” Doyle said. “The four game rule was very beneficial in my case. I’m looking forward to how we can use it as a team this year to bring some more young guys along.”

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Doyle, who is the son of Iowa strength and conditioning coordinator Chris Doyle, recorded two assisted tackles last season primarily on special teams.

Dillon Doyle, who also graduated from Iowa City West, said that the specials teams experience was invaluable on and off the field.

“Defensively, especially, we love to use linebackers on special teams because a lot of times it’s a tackling unit,” Dillon Doyle said. “It was really good for me to get experience on special team because at the mike linebacker position you have to be a great tackler.

“Just getting some experience doing that in games was big for me. Having a little responsibility on the field and dealing with the gameday environment was a really good introduction for me.”

Cook looks to contribute: An up-and-down career for senior tight end Drew Cook is drawing to a close.

Cook, a graduate of Iowa City Regina, has battled injuries and adjusted to a position change but now finds himself in a position to contribute this season.

“It’s definitely flown by,” Cook said. “I can’t believe it, but I have definitely acknowledged it and embraced it and I’m ready to do this.

“It’s an opportunity. It’s an incredible opportunity. All I can do right now is come out, worry about tomorrow’s practice, get better then and try to just do everything I can to help my teammates and help the Hawks win games.”

The 6-foot-5, 252-pound Cook missed all of spring practice due to injury but never considered it a setback, but a chance to learn despite not being able to participate.

“I don’t like thinking about setbacks,” Cook said. “It definitely hurt mentally. You want to be out there getting better with your teammates and grinding with them. I still took the opportunity to take a lot of mental reps because you can still watch a play, even though you’re not in, and think about, mentally, your first step. You can feel it almost. I really feel like I haven’t missed a beat.”

Cook also said that the opportunity to watch first-round draft picks Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson helped him tremendously.

“I’ll just pick T.J. for example. When he runs routes, he’s maybe the best route runner I’ve ever seen. His cuts are so clean, whether it’s been he punches and pivots or punches and plants out of a break, he’s very efficient. I’ve learned so much by watching his footwork and his arm action and all that stuff.”

Kaevon Merri-dunker: The Iowa football team has many players that were accomplished basketball players in high school.

And if you ask sophomore defensive back Kaevon Merriweather, he’s at the top of the list, particularly with regard to dunking.

“Hands down I’m the best dunker,” Merriweather said. “I’ve got the best dunk package of all time.”

Merriweather said that he first dunked a basketball in tenth grade and that anyone one the team that says they can compete with him is wrong, including star defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who threw down a few rim-rattlers in high school.

“I’ve seen video, it’s not that good,” Merriweather said.

The 6-foot, 210-pound Merriweather had the chance to play basketball in college, but rekindled his love for football during his senior year of high school.

“I chose Iowa because my love for the game was starting to come back toward the end of my senior year,” Merriweather said. “When I committed to Iowa I just felt like it was the best decision so that’s where my heart took me and I stuck with it.”