On the Beat: Iowa safeties Brandon Snyder, Amani Hooker have chance to be special

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa junior Brandon Snyder started at free safety just six months after tearing the ACL in his left knee in spring practice.

Sophomore Amani Hooker was a backup for three games, then moved into the starting lineup at free safety for the Hawkeyes’ first two Big Ten games. Once Snyder returned, Hooker went back to the bench.

For a quarter.

It became obvious Hooker was too good to sit, and his end-zone interception against Illinois proved it. He has become the team’s starting strong safety. Likewise, Snyder shows little effect from his lack of time on the field. He picked off a pass and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown in the same game.

Neither player was in the starting lineup for the season opener, yet those two form the nucleus for what could become Iowa’s best safety tandem since Brett Greenwood and Tyler Sash from 2008-10.

Both players are physical. Snyder stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 214 with a bodybuilder’s biceps. Hooker (6-0, 210) packs the same kind of wallop as a hitter. They are agile, fast and able to cover in space. As a sophomore in 2016, Snyder forced a team-high 4 fumbles and tied for the team high with 3 interceptions.

In his first game as a starter, Hooker registered 13 tackles against Penn State, including 11 solo stops. Six of those tackles came against running back Saquon Barkley. That’s what impressed Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, along with Hooker’s ability to track the football.

“He has the ability to move and run, and he has a great feel for the ball, where it’s at, obviously, and obviously last week’s game, understanding how to get underneath that route and picked that interception off,” Parker said. “He had an excellent play over on the sideline when they threw a ball to the flat in the Illinois game. The way he closed and to be able to track the ball and be able to tackle, and go back to the Penn State game.

“There’s one play on there I just looked at yesterday, that he made when Barkley was coming out, and he was a one-on-one and he tracked him down and made a tackle that was surely going to be a touchdown, and it just shows to me that he’s progressing every day. He’s getting better. I think with Snyder there to help him out, it’s going to help us be a lot better in the back end.”

Snyder played like he hadn’t missed a game. Against Illinois, had 3 tackles and 2 pass breakups to go along with his interception. Although doctors and the coaching staff required Snyder be cleared physically, it was Snyder’s mental repetitions that successfully led him back to the field quickly.

“He’s a guy that can sit there on the sideline and absorb what’s going on and what somebody should do at his position, and he encouraged the other guys,” Parker said. 

The communication has really picked up since he’s been out there, and you can see him directing traffic out there and understanding not only what the plays they’re going to run but making sure that everybody is in the right coverage, in the right defense, at the right time.”

As the Hawkeyes approach their final six regular-season games, Snyder and Hooker appear as the likely tandem going forward. Hooker replaced senior Miles Taylor at strong safety against Illinois and remained there the rest of the game. That’s not an easy decision for Parker, with Taylor’s 29 career starts and unsung leadership skills. But as Parker said Wednesday, “M y job is to put the best players on the field that can help us win.”

The best safety combination unquestionably at Iowa under Kirk Ferentz was Bob Sanders and Sean Considine. Both were impact players in the secondary and in the NFL. Perhaps no combination can touch that. Likewise, Greenwood and Sash combined for 25 interceptions and were terrific. Can the Snyder-Hooker duo enter that conversation? Iowa’s coaching staff sure hopes it can.

The post On the Beat: Iowa safeties Brandon Snyder, Amani Hooker have chance to be special appeared first on Land of 10.

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