If the Iowa defensive line reaches its potential this season, Christian Ballard deserves a bunch of the credit. Many players faced with his decision have made things difficult for teammates and coaches.
After starting every game last season at end, Ballard agreed to move to tackle. The position change, in large part, had to do with Broderick Binns emerging on the outside and the Hawkeyes needing to replace stalwarts, Mitch King and Matt Kroul, who started the last four years inside.
Ballard’s selflessness was not lost on Binns.
“If you have a team of guys that are just out to get success for themselves, you really can’t move forward,” Binns said. “But if you have a guy next to you who is willing to help you out with something, it’s good for team morale.”
Ballard said that he didn’t at all resist moving down the line.
“When you look at all the great players like Mitch King and Matt Kroul, you definitely need to fill those shoes right there,” Ballard said. “Karl (Klug) has been doing a good job. Mike (Daniels) has been doing a good job. But we needed a little more depth in there, a little more game experience.”
Binns, who recorded two sacks in limited duty a year ago, wasn’t surprised Ballard moved. They’ve become good friends and Ballard hinted at the end of last season that he’d be willing to switch.
“He told me long before this move ever happened that if it comes down to that he’s not going to get mad,” Binns said. “He’s going to do whatever he needs to for the team to win. He’s a good player and an all-around good guy.”
Dallas Clark protested a bit when being moved from linebacker to tight end. Matt Roth was uneasy about leaving linebacker for defensive end. That didn’t make then bad teammates, only like many players that are concerned with the outcome of the decision.
“It’s gone pretty good,” Ballard said. “I’m still working on it. I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m starting to pick it up. Every day, I’m learning new things. It’s definitely fun. We have depth in there.”
Ballard came to Iowa as a tight end, a position he played for his first two weeks on campus. He ran at power forward in basketball and sprinted on Lawrence (Kansas) Free State High’s track team.
“It’s kind of a really weird change of events,” the 6-foot-5, 285-pound Ballard said. “I never thought that I would be playing defensive tackle. I’m here now. I’m having fun. And I’m going to stick with it.”
Ballard volunteered to play tackle this spring when injuries left the Hawkeyes lacking healthy bodies inside.
“I really wanted to jump in there and show them that I can be used anywhere on the field,” Ballard said. “Broderick (Binns) stepped up really big this last season. He’s a really great defensive end. He needs to get on the field, so they moved me down. I thought that by me moving down I could still play effectively and still be a good player out there.”
Ballard said that the biggest differences from end to tackle were the footwork and staying lower to the ground.
“But you still have to be physical and tough,” he said.
Physically, Ballard said that his body is prepared for the change.
“I started every game last year,” he said. “I’m excited to see what’s in store for this year. I want to keep the intensity up.”