Iowa safety Dane Belton experienced a career-year in 2021 after recording a team-high five interceptions and seven pass breakups to go along with 46 total tackles, three of which went for a loss. Belton appeared in all 14 games for a Hawkeyes defense that was one of the stingiest units in all of college football, allowing opponents to score just 19.2 points per contest. The unquestioned leader of Iowa's secondary, the impressive Belton spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his newfound ball production, his ability to play the linebacker position and wear multiple hats defensively, his career at Iowa, and what kind of long-lasting impact he’ll make at the next level. JM: You played receiver and returned kicks and punts in high school. How did those experiences make you a better overall defender? DB: It gave me the versatility required. Anytime you have experience playing a position you’re tasked with defending, you understand what’s going through their mind. When I moved to the defensive side of the ball permanently, I understood what a receiver’s thought process is like. I know how to better defend them now. I have a high understanding of snap counts and the depth required on certain routes. You’re able to quickly identify and figure out their tendencies. I’ve lived on that side of the ball. When it comes to returning kicks and punts, it just added to my versatility really. It proves that I’m a higher-level athlete. I became a better overall football player because of it. JM: What a season you enjoyed in 2021. You recorded a team-high five interceptions and seven pass breakups. I imagine you entered the season with a greater focus on creating interceptions in 2021, and you achieved that goal in a major way by exploding with five takeaways. What led to your newfound ball production? DB: I continued to work. Like you said, I definitely entered the season with a greater emphasis on creating interceptions and taking the ball away in general. For me to be able to get those five interceptions, I felt like I helped the team tremendously. I continued to get better. I studied a lot of film throughout the season. I feel like each year I played, going from my freshman year to sophomore year, and then sophomore year to junior year, I consistently grew as a player. I feel like I showed that in 2021. I only had tackles during my freshman year, and I only had tackles and pass breakups during my sophomore year. I needed to create those turnovers in 2021 and I did that with those five interceptions. It’s a product of the steady work I’ve been putting in. JM: You played a little linebacker at Iowa as well. You received some looks there throughout practice. What’s the main difference between playing safety and linebacker? The positions are becoming somewhat more interchangeable at the next level. DB: I feel like the biggest difference is that you’ll spend more time in the box as a linebacker. I was in the box a little bit as a safety too, but you move around more at safety. You’re essentially always in the box as a linebacker. Linebacker takes a different amount of studying and preparation. You have to understand gap schemes, where you fit, and where everybody on the defense fits. You still have to know those things at safety, but it’s more prevalent at the linebacker position because you have to be the first person in that gap. At safety, you might offer some secondary support or play as an alley player. It comes back to what I said earlier, and that’s studying the tendencies of a team. When you pick those things up, it helps your game tremendously. The game is also faster at the linebacker position. You have to be a quick mental processor at linebacker. JM: Which position do you see yourself playing at the next level? DB: I feel like I can wear multiple hats defensively. I think I strongly showcased that throughout my time at Iowa. I definitely see myself anywhere in the defensive backfield mainly. My pro team will ultimately make that decision. Wherever they see me playing, I’m going to apply myself to the best of my ability. I’m ready to plug in anywhere and help the team. I have the skills to play as a deep safety. I feel like I can play in the box. I can play the nickel a little bit. I’m gonna do what I can to help the team. JM: What is it about your skill set that allowed you to move all over the field like that at Iowa? DB: I feel like there’s a few reasons. My mentality comes first and foremost. That’s just how I approach the game. You have to be a student of the game in order to handle all of those positions. It takes a certain understanding of football. I feel like I’ve done that. I can still study more tape and pick up on new strategies and tendencies. I was at a good place with my film study throughout the 2021 season. I went into every game with a great feel for our opponents. I’m versatile thanks to my athletic ability. Certain positions require more speed whereas others require more strength, physicality, and good hips, hands and feet. It’s important to string all of those things together. JM: What can you tell me about the scheme Iowa ran on defense and what your coaches asked of you? DB: We ran a quarters defense. We didn’t do anything crazy, really. We stuck to our defense even in the biggest of games. The coaches trusted us to do our job and make a play. They relied on us as players. Of course, we had a lot of adjustments as well. We had to be aware of that. The safeties and middle linebackers had to be especially mindful of that. Once we did that, it was still about playing football at the end of the day. Playing in that defense, it’s a tough defense to learn at first. We had a lot of checks at safety. Once you get that down, it’s all about playing fast and making plays. It’s the main reason why myself and a lot of my teammates were so successful. We studied the playbook together. Once you do that, we were allowed to play fast and freely. We went out there and made plays together. JM: You had a pretty legendary moment against Northwestern this past season. Somebody captured you staring down Northwestern’s sideline while you were still being tackled after making the game-clinching interception (laughs). That was a great moment. Walk me through that one. DB: I didn’t say anything to them or anything like that (laughs). It was a two-minute drill. They needed a touchdown to win the game. We went out there as a defense that prided ourselves on taking the ball away, making plays, and creating turnovers. I remember the drive so well. I was in the nickel position for the first play of the drive. I was jamming and sinking underneath the out route. We had practiced it all week long. We knew they loved that route and that they loved throwing the ball to the sidelines. I got under it perfectly and made the play. A lot of people ask me about that moment. I didn’t say anything to the sidelines. I was just happy, to be honest with you. I can’t explain that feeling when you witness the work you put in come to fruition. I practiced specifically for that play and for that route throughout the week. It goes back to studying their tendencies. There was no better feeling at that moment. My coaches told me all week long, they’re going to throw that route at some point and if you do what you’re supposed to do, you’ll make a play on the ball. They told me that all week long. For it to happen like that, it was a special moment. There was so much excitement in my face. It was a very happy moment for me. JM: We love hearing that. It was a big-time play. You recently received your invite to the NFL Scouting Combine. Congratulations on that. Are there any drills or aspects of the combine you’re specifically looking forward to? DB: Thank you for that. I know there are some things teams want to see from me so they could get a better idea of the type of player I am. I’m definitely looking forward to showcasing my abilities. I’m looking forward to running the 40-yard dash. Everybody looks forward to running the 40. I know it’ll be an important aspect for us defensive backs. I’m ready to showcase my speed for these teams. I think they’re going to realize how fast I actually am. If I perform well, it can only help me. Other than that, I’m looking forward to the on-field DB drills that ask me to change direction, the ones that allow me to be explosive within my movements. I can’t wait for the defensive back drills. The biggest thing is for me to go out there and perform like I know I’m capable of. If I do that, I’ll have a successful Combine. JM: I’ve really appreciated your time today. What kind of impact is Dane Belton going to make at the next level? DB: I’m going to make an impact on multiple levels. Obviously, football is my main goal and focus. It’s a blessing to be in this position. I’ve worked for this my entire life. I’m continuing to work with the hopes of making a huge impact. I want to leave my legacy on that field as one of the best defensive backs. I also want to be a great human being and teammate to be around. I want to leave a legacy and impact on the community that I get to call home. I feel like I’ve been given a platform to do just that while promoting change and helping others. It extends beyond football. That’s what I’m hoping to achieve and get out of this experience that I’m so blessed to have at my disposal.
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