IOWA CITY - Tyler Nielsen knows where he stands.
That doesn't mean the former Humboldt all-stater is taking anything for granted. Three years of waiting patiently will do that to a player.
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound redshirt junior starts 2010 preseason camp as the University of Iowa's starting outside linebacker - a position occupied last season by drafted Indianapolis Colt A.J. Edds.
Nielsen sounded cautiously optimistic about the upcoming campaign during the team's media day here Friday afternoon. On one hand, he embraces the opportunity to start for a Top-10 program.
On the other, he's not about to put the cart in front of the horse.
''Nothing is set in stone, so I'm not going to get ahead of myself,'' said Nielsen, a two-time academic all-Big Ten selection. ''All I can hope for at this point is to perform up to my capabilities and stay healthy. We have a lot of capable (linebackers) ; we're a solid two or three deep at (all three) positions, so we'll all contribute and push each other.
''If I'm given the opportunity to step up, I'll do my best to make the most of it. Both A.J. and Pat (Angerer) have taught all of us a lot, so (the younger players) are looking forward to taking those lessons to the field in game situations.''
As usual, Hawkeye defensive coordinator Norm Parker had nothing but good things to say about Nielsen. Parker knows, though, that his comments are now based less in theory and more in reality given where Nielsen stands on the depth chart.
''Tyler came in here as a young kid who we knew was very intelligent and athletic,'' Parker said. ''It just takes time. He's not the first and won't be the last to have to wait his turn, which is the way it should be ideally.
''He's blossomed into a player who has a chance to do some nice things these next two years. Of course there will be a learning curve, but he'll get smarter and better every day once we get into the season.''
Nielsen and senior Jeff Tarpinian are slated to fill the capacious holes left by Edds and Angerer on a defense that returns eight starters. Nielsen, who still wears No. 45, is contending with senior Ross Petersen on the outside. Tarpinian and Bruce Davis are battling for the middle position.
Jeremiha Hunter returns on the weak side.
Nielsen saw action in all 13 games last fall - predominantly on special teams. He had four solo tackles and three assists defensively.
''Everyone is first and everyone is last at this point,'' Nielsen said. ''What you see on paper doesn't mean much. There are no guarantees. It will come down to who works the hardest and does all of the little things right between now and (Sept. 4).''
Nielsen's former high school teammate, fellow redshirt junior Cody Hundertmark, is adjusting to life on the other side of the ball. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound Hundertmark moved to the offensive line and is currently listed as the second-string right guard behind junior Adam Gettis.
''It's obviously a lot different, but I'm getting more comfortable by the day,'' Hundertmark said. ''I have a lot to learn, but I think it's for the best. This fits more with what I am as an athlete, and now, I'm just taking it all in and meeting a new set of challenges.''
Hundertmark made the switch to offense before the Orange Bowl.
''(Standout left guard) Julian Vandervelde's been really helpful during (the transition),'' Hundertmark said. ''A lot of the veterans know the system in and out, so it's to my advantage to listen to them, keep working hard and take things one day at a time.''
Nielsen's brother, Nick Nielsen, is also on the depth chart as a third-string safety. Nick is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound redshirt sophomore who was on the field twice last year - against Northern Iowa and Minnesota.
Nick joined the Hawks in 2008 as a walk-on after a decorated career at Humboldt.
Contact Eric Pratt at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at email@example.com