POSITIONAL AWARENESS: OFFENSIVE LINE

By Mike Jones on August 25, 2016 at 8:39 am
The Iowa offensive line does work.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
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Positional Awareness is our annual rundown of the Iowa depth chart, from the position where we are most confident in what Kirk Ferentz intends to do to, well, running back.

Previously on Positional Awareness:

  1. Quarterback
  2. Defensive Tackle
  3. Cornerback
  4. Tight End
  5. Linebacker
  6. Safety
Eligibility Remaining
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
54 Steve Ferentz SR 6-2/282 Center          
64 Cole Croston SR 6-5/307 Left Tackle          
73 Ryan Ward SR 6-5/295 OL          
74 Mitch Keppy SR 6-5/300 OL          
52 Boone Myers JR 6-5/305 Left Guard          
75 Ike Boettger JR 6-6/307 Right Tackle          
79 Sean Welsh JR 6-3/290 Right Guard          
59 Ross Reynolds SO 6-4/300 OL          
69 Keegan Render SO 6-4/308 Right Guard          
70 Lucas LeGrand SO 6-5/290 Left Guard          
76 Dalton Ferguson SO 6-4/310 Right Tackle          
78 James Daniels SO 6-4/295 Center          
57 Jake Newborg FR(RS) 6-3/290 OL          
66 Levi Paulsen FR(RS) 6-5/305 OL          
68 Landan Paulsen FR(RS) 6-5/305 OL          
71 Brett Waechter FR(RS) 6-5/290 Left Tackle          
56 Burke Prins FR 6-4/290 OL          
61 Cole Banwart FR 6-4/280 OL          
63 Spencer Williams FR 6-3/290 OL          
77 Alaric Jackson FR 6-7/285 OL          

Entering last season, there was a question as to how Iowa was going to replace the likes of Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal, two offensive tackles selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. The team found its rock in senior center Austin Blythe, who didn’t come to Iowa to go 7-6. Blythe was surrounded by guards Jordan Walsh and sophomore Sean Welsh and tackles Ike Boettger and Boone Myers. During the non-conference schedule, the line was a model of consistency. Then Myers went down with a stinger against North Texas and the shuffle began.

The loss of Myers led to Cole Croston being slotted in at left tackle against Wisconsin. The victory over the Badgers was relatively painless and there looked to be a return to normalcy until Boettger was injured against Illinois. This caused James Daniels to be slotted at left guard and Welsh to take over right tackle. By the time the Rose Bowl rolled around Iowa had started four different offensive tackles, with three of them entering the season with only one combined career start. There wasn’t a noticeable drop-off in pass protection, as Beathard’s sack numbers remained steady the second half of the season. At least until the Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl when Iowa gave up a combined 10 sacks.

This season Iowa faces the similar task of replacing two offensive linemen but this time, they’ll be reconstructing the interior of the line. The preseason depth chart indicated that Croston and Boettger would remain at tackle, Myers was to be shifted to left guard and Welsh and Daniels started at center and right guard, respectively. Daniels playing right guard was short lived:

And so the shuffle begins. Again.

THE LEGACY PUNTER

LT: COLE CROSTON (#64, Senior, 6’5, 295 lbs., Sergeant Bluff-Luton (Sergeant Bluff, IA)

If you take one look at Cole Croston’s high school honors on Hawkeye Sports you’ll learn all you need to know about what type of player he is:

High school honors - - Earned first team all-conference honors as offensive lineman and punter . . . Career - - Earned three letters as offensive lineman and punter . . .

Punting = winning.

Croston walked on at Iowa back in 2012 with absolutely zero FBS scholarships offers to his name. He was a scrawny tackle/defensive tackle, who had not much more to offer coaches than his last name as his father, Dave, played for Hayden Fry and therefore, Kirk Ferentz, in the mid-1980’s. Chances are if you asked Kirk Ferentz how he went about recruiting future All-American Dave Croston back in the 80’s he could probably tell you. Spoiler alert: He can literally tell you how that happened.

Croston is your typical feel good walk-on story. He redshirted his first season, put on weight (a LOT of weight thanks to the “overpaid” Chris Doyle) and started off on special teams prior to seeing some offensive line reps during garbage time. By August 2015, he’d earned a scholarship and was entrenched as the backup left tackle until Myers suffered a stinger against North Texas. Croston stepped in against the Badgers and continued at left tackle until Myers returned. By the time Myers returned, Boettger was lost due to a high ankle sprain so Croston moved to right tackle and never ceded the position again.

His performance at tackle didn’t raise any eyebrows, which is what you want from an offensive lineman. As expected, he struggled against elite rushers like Joe Schobert, the aggressiveness of Maryland’s defense, and couldn’t stop the onslaught that was Stanford (then again, no one could). But as a first-year starter thrown into the most difficult position on the offensive line, he performed admirably. With a year of experience under his belt and there being no question that he’s Iowa’s starting left tackle, we can expect a great performance in his final season.

THE OTHER OTHER WALK ON

LG: BOONE MYERS (#52, Junior, 6’5, 305 lbs., Webster City (Webster City, IA)

Ironically(in an Alanis Morissette sense), Boone Myers, Iowa’s most experienced left tackle, will be playing left guard this season. Myers walked on as a 255 pound TE/DE from Webster City, redshirted, and immediately got on the Chris Doyle pump me up plan. He was awarded a scholarship prior to the 2014 season, saw some action in garbage time, and by 2015 he was named Iowa’s starting left tackle. Things went relatively well until he was injured against North Texas, missed three game, and got back into the lineup against Maryland.

Then came the Big Ten Championship. Yes, I know there’s scar tissue and I know it hurts to talk about. It hurts me. And listen, it could’ve been anyone in Boone’s position. It could’ve been Cole Croston. It could’ve been Ike Boettger. But it was Boone Myers who was tasked with the responsibility of blocking Shilique Calhoun.

Boone Myers did not block Shilique Calhoun.

I mean, he kinda did once or twice. But not much. And that’s why he lost the left tackle spot to Croston for the Rose Bowl and was shifted inside to guard. Considering his size and tiny little arms, guard is a better fit for Myers and we expect him to be much more comfortable on the interior.

THE WUNDERKIND

C: JAMES DANIELS (#78, Sophomore, 6’4, 285 lbs., Harding (Warren, OH)

James Daniels was arguably the most hyped offensive line recruit since Rafael Eubanks. Perhaps that’s why he actually saw playing time as a 17-year-old true freshman last season. A 4-star recruit at center who chose Iowa over the likes of Alabama, Michigan, and Ohio State, the plan was to groom Daniels for the center position until Blythe graduated and have him start in 2016. As you know, the injury bug hit the line last season and suddenly Daniels was thrust into action, first at guard and then at tackle. The results were…less than spectacular.

And to be fair to Daniels, he was an 18-year-old playing out of position in the midst of the Big Ten schedule. Growing pains were expected. The positive news is that he’s shown the Ferentzes something, despite missing the spring practice due to knee surgery, and has earned the starting spot at the position he played in high school. Someone as talented as Daniels returning to his comfort zone can only mean good things.

BONUS: Here’s LeShun giving James a noogie.

LIL SEAN

RG: SEAN WELSH (#79, Junior, 6’3, 285 lbs., Springboro (Springboro, OH)

The most experienced player on the line, Welsh has a combined 23 starts across three positions. In 2014 he started seven games at right guard and two starts at left. In 2015 he started 12 games at left guard and two games at right tackle. He was listed as Iowa’s starting center this spring due to Daniels being out with a knee injury and was even named to the Rimington Trophy watch list, despite never playing a down as center in college.

How good is Welsh as a guard? Chad Leistikow quoted Ferentz as saying:

“We think he's a pretty good player,” Kirk Ferentz said. “I hate to throw this out, because I don't want to start this train going, but Marshal (Yanda) comes to mind.”

The true question is whether or not Welsh actually stays at right guard or continues to be shuffled around.

MR. PRESIDENT

RT: IKE BOETTGER (#75, Junior, 6’6, 300 lbs., Cedar Falls (Cedar Falls, IA)

To fully understand Ike Boettger’s journey you should probably start by looking at his Rivals.com recruiting profile. Like so many other Iowa players, he came to us as a scrawny recruit, was fed only beef and corn and next thing you know he’s 6-6, 300 lbs. Boettger redshirted his freshman season, saw the field sporadically in 2014, and was named the starting right tackle last season. He started the first six games before suffering a high ankle sprain against Illinois and didn’t return until the Rose Bowl, where he saw limited action.

The good news is that Boettger is fully healed from his ankle issues. The bad news is that he’s Iowa’s second most inexperienced lineman in the second most important position on the line.

WHILE YOU WAIT FOR THE OTHERS

STEVE FERENTZ (#54, Senior, 6’2, 282 lbs., Iowa City (Iowa City, IA)

The latest Ferentz to come through the program (and the most awesome-looking one) also happens to be the smallest of the brothers. A one-time tight end, Ferentz walked on after graduating from City High and moved to the offensive line in 2013. He didn’t play in 2014 and only saw the field against Illinois State and North Texas last season. With the emergence of Daniels and Ferentz getting third-team reps at Kids Day, it’s unlikely he’ll see the field barring blowout or disaster. However, don’t be surprised when he’s a coach in two years.

RYAN WARD (#73, Senior, 6’5, 295 lbs., Providence Catholic (Homer Glen, IL)

I’m often wary of using the word “bust” but considering it’s been five years and Ward isn’t even listed on the depth chart, it may be appropriate. An Army All-American, Ward was a 4-star recruit and one of the jewels of the 2012 class who picked Iowa over Michigan State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. He redshirted his freshman season and has only seen sporadic action over the past three years. Judging by his track record it’s unlikely that we’ll see him unless the third string takes the field in a blowout.

MITCH KEPPY (#74, Senior, 6’5, 305 lbs., Riverdale (Port Byron, IL)

Another disappearing act from the class of 2012, Iowa was Keppy’s only offer and he redshirted his freshman year. He didn’t see the field in 2013. He didn’t see the field in 2014. He missed the entire 2015 season due to injury and he’s not listed on the preseason depth chart so there’s no reason to expect he’ll see the field in 2016.

ROSS REYNOLDS (#59, Sophomore, 6’4, 300 lbs., Waukee (Waukee, IA)

A 2-star recruit that only had offers from FCS schools, Reynolds greyshirted/redshirted his freshman year and only saw the field against North Texas last season. He was left guard on the second team offense at Kid’s Day but still hasn’t cracked the depth chart. Maybe next year.

KEEGAN RENDER (#69, Sophomore, 6’4, 308 lbs., Indianola (Indianola, IA)

The most promising of the sophomores, Render was a 3-star recruit with offers from ISU, NIU, a few FCS programs and reportedly had interest from hated Big Ten members Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Minnesota. Last season he was listed as the backup at right tackle, saw action in all 14 games, and was the second team right guard this spring. Due to Welsh’s injury he saw first team reps on Kid’s Day and Ferentz considers Render sixth on the team’s depth chart. Safe to say, if there’s an injury or a less than inspiring performance on the line, Render will be the first lineman off the bench.

LUCAS LEGRAND (#70, Sophomore, 6’5, 290 lbs., Senior (Dubuque, IA)

Since committing to Iowa in 2014, LeGrand redshirted, put on 30 pounds and saw action in only one game last season. However, he’s listed as the backup left guard and saw second team reps at Kid’s Day. If Render is your No. 6 on the depth chart, LeGrand could very well be No. 7.

DALTON FERGUSON (#76, Sophomore, 6’4, 310 lbs., Solon (Solon, IA)

A preferred walk-on, Ferguson chose to forego a number of FCS schools and try his luck at Iowa. He already looked the part at 6’4, 315 pounds when he committed, so it was just a matter of strength and technique. Ferguson redshirted in 2014, saw limited action last season and is currently listed as the backup right tackle. Considering he looks the part and has a year of experience, he looks to be a solid No. 2 at right tackle and a potential starter in the future.

THEY WERE ONLY FRESHMEN

JAKE NEWBORG (#57, RS Freshman, 6’3, 290 lbs., West Lyon (Inwood, IA)

LEVI PAULSEN (#66, RS Freshman, 6’5, 290 lbs., Woodbury Central (Moville, IA)

LANDAN PAULSEN (#68, RS Freshman, 6’5, 305 lbs., Woodbury Central (Moville, IA)

BRETT WAECHTER (#71, RS Freshman, 6’5, 290 lbs., Harley-Melvin-Sanborn (Hartley, IA)

BURKE PRINS (#56, Freshman, 6’4, 290 lbs., Hinton (Hinton, IA)

COLE BANWART (#61, Freshman, 6’4, 280 lbs., Algona (Ottosen, IA)

SPENCER WILLIAMS (#63, Freshman, 6’3, 290 lbs., Cedar Falls (Cedar Falls, IA)

ALARIC JACKSON (#77, Freshman, 6’7, 285 lbs., Renaissance (Detroit, MI)

Of all the names on this list, Brett Waechter, and Jake Newborg were the only two linemen listed on the spring depth chart or to see second-team reps at Kid’s Day. Like every other recruit from small town Iowa, they originally played on the defensive line, redshirted, put on 30+ pounds, and now await their future Hawkeye glory.

Only Levi Paulsen saw any reps at Kid’s Day, and that was with the third team. As both Paulsen twins were 4-star recruits, stand at 6’5 and weigh around 300 pounds, it’s somewhat troubling that neither have cracked the depth chart or at least worked their way up to the second team. It’s far too early to be concerned about their futures, but considering how highly touted recruits can often disappear into the fold on the line, and the fact that two “projects” from small town Iowa are beating them out on the depth chart, it’s something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Spencer Williams and Alaric Jackson, two of the more highly regarded recruits from the class of 2016, saw reps on the third team at Kid’s Day. You might remember Jackson as the kid from Detroit that Jim Harbaugh attempted to steal away at the last minute. Iowa is set at left tackle with Croston but with this being his last year of eligibility, Jackson could push for the starting job next season.

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