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:
|59||Ross Reynolds||SR||6-4/295||Left Guard #1|
|69||Keegan Render||SR||6-4/307||Center #1|
|76||Dalton Ferguson||SR||6-4/308||Right Tackle #2|
|66||Levi Paulsen||JR||6-5/305||Right Guard #2|
|68||Landan Paulsen||JR||6-5/305||Left Guard #2|
|61||Cole Banwart||SO||6-4/296||Right Guard #1|
|74||Tristan Wirfs||SO||6-5/320||Right Tackle #1|
|77||Alaric Jackson||SO||6-7/320||Left Tackle #1|
|67||Levi Duwa||FR(RS)||6-3/270||Center #2|
|71||Mark Kallenberger||FR(RS)||6-6/282||Left Tackle #2|
|72||Coy Kirkpatrick||FR(RS)||6-4/290||Left Guard|
Kirk Ferentz’s favorite and most obsessive position saw a number of hits last season, as Ike Boettger and Boone Myers were lost to injury. While there were obvious repercussions of losing two senior starting tackles, it gave exciting younger players like Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs opportunities to play as freshmen. At the close of last season, we expected James Daniels to be the anchor of the line in 2018, but he wisely decided to forego his senior season and entered the NFL Draft. With his departure, Iowa faces the task of replacing two multiple-year starters, including one of Iowa’s better guards of the Kirk Ferentz era, Sean Welsh.
Fortunately, no one can put together an offensive line quite like Kirk Ferentz, and he’s got a robust roster to work with.
The Maginot Line
LT #1: ALARIC JACKSON (#77, Sophomore, 6'7, 320 lbs., Renaissance, Detroit, MI)
RT #1: TRISTAN WIRFS (#74, Sophomore, 6’5, 320 lbs., Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, IA)
Usually, I don’t group starters but in the case of Wirfs and Jackson, I’ll make an exception as they’ve got a lot in common. Both were highly touted recruits that could’ve played college football pretty much anywhere they wanted to (Tristan’s offer list was small due to his early commitment). Both started at tackle as freshmen (albeit, Alaric was a redshirt freshman). Both were recognized by the Big Ten for their performances as freshmen, as Alaric was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team and Tristan was honorable mention. Both are large adult men, weighing 320 lbs and standing 6’5" or taller. Both are, apparently, interchangeable players, as they’ve rotated between left and right tackle on the depth chart.
Jackson started every regular season game at left tackle last season but was suspended for the Pinstripe Bowl, so Wirfs took his spot. This spring, Wirfs stayed at left and Jackson started at right tackle, as Kirk Ferentz wanted to see who was truly better at either position. Offensive line coach Tim Polasek noted in the spring:
“I’ll be honest with you, we went through a tough time in the bowl prep because that was a quick transition and we had some time for Tristan to go over there…But A.J.’s the one that really struggled on the right side. Quite frankly, it’s interesting. One guy’s right hand is better on the right side. The other guy’s left hand is better [on the left side]. So you get these different things going on. But really their feet in pass protection, both have been pretty good. I’m really happy with that. But it’s a constant grind to perfect. They’re both really comfortable from a schematic standpoint.”
With the release of the preseason depth chart, the question was answered as to whether Jackson and Wirfs needed to switch sides: Nope. Jackson is Iowa’s left tackle. Wirfs is Iowa’s right tackle.
Wirfs and Jackson’s first years as starters weren’t all smooth sailing. They got beat a few times by more experienced Big Ten linemen. On the other hand, I’m hard-pressed to recall tackles that were this fast out in space or as quick to get to the second level. Here’s Jackson against Michigan State last year:
Reach blocks from the Iowa offensive line. Frees up the LT (Alaric Jackson #77) and C (James Daniels #78) to get to the second level. Great job by Joe Bachie with the double swipe on Daniels and gets in position to get the tackle pic.twitter.com/0ppCO4P1AO
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) July 23, 2018
Whatever their faults were last season, they get a pass. They’ve started a combined 20 games and are sophomores now. Year Two of The Jackson and Wirfs Show should be an exciting one.
LG #1: ROSS REYNOLDS (#59, Senior, 6'4, 295 lbs., Waukee, Waukee, IA)
We expected big things out of Reynolds last season with all of the lip service he got from the players and coaches. It seemed like he’d spent the majority of his career on Iowa’s depth chart at left guard, but simply couldn’t break through as a starter. Finally, last season against Wyoming, he got his opportunity to start as Keegan Render had to take the place of an injured James Daniels at center. I don’t recall anything out of the ordinary and apparently, the coaches didn’t see anything either, as Reynolds was once again supplanted on the depth chart by Render, who more or less closed out the season as Iowa’s starter. Reynolds saw action in every game in 2017 but was never able to recapture a starting position.
With Render’s move to center, Reynolds once again has an opportunity to show that he can be a Big Ten starter. As he’s seen action in 18 total games over the course of his career, he has a leg up on his backup. Then again, considering he’s only ever cracked the depth chart by (arguably) other players being unavailable, it’s OK to be a little skeptical about how he’ll perform in 2018.
C #1: KEEGAN RENDER (#69, Senior, 6'4, 307 lbs., Indianola, Indianola, IA)
While there may be questions across the offensive line, there isn’t one at center. Keegan Render is Iowa’s best and most experienced offensive linemen. He saw action in every game as a redshirt freshman in 2015 and was Kirk Ferentz’s sixth offensive lineman heading into 2016. When injuries struck, he filled in at both left and right guard. Over the course of his career, he’s started 20 games, with the majority at left guard. When James Daniels was injured prior to the Wyoming game last season, it was Render who took his spot. And when Daniels announced that he was leaving early for the NFL, it was Render who was expected to take his place.
Now, he's the shot caller on the offensive line. That holds a bit more responsibility than left guard, but it sounds like he’s up to the task. Render is Iowa’s most dependable lineman, and they’re fortunate to have him starting at center.
RG #1: COLE BANWART (#61, Sophomore, 6'4, 296 lbs., Algona, Ottosen, IA)
Whether or not Cole Banwart is actually your starter at right guard is a bit of mystery. This spring, the nod went to Levi Paulsen, a junior who's had some previous starting experience. Then, Paulsen suffered some sort of injury and missed the entire spring. This opened the door for Banwart, a lightly recruited sophomore who only saw action in three games as a redshirt freshman. He could be a placeholder, or he could be the newest thing at right guard. We’ll know more when Paulsen returns from his injury.
The Alpine Line
LT #2: MARK KALLENBERGER (#71, RS Freshman, 6’5, 282 lbs., Bettendorf, Bettendorf, IA)
You might remember Kallenberger as the best recruit out of Iowa (not Wirfs) in the class of 2017, at least according to ESPN. Once a 6’5", 250-pound recruit, Kallenberger is up to 282 pounds after redshirting his true freshman year and spending a year in the Colonel Steve Austin Program, led by Chief Doctor of Getting Huge, Chris Doyle. Coach Polasek praised Kallenberger and talked about a possible position switch this spring:
“Mark has worked only at right and left tackle. So rep one of the twos, he goes out there to left tackle. Something we talk about weekly is personnel. Who can provide depth? Who can get into the top six or seven? Do we have our best five out there right now? Mark’s name comes up constantly. We’ll try to provide some opportunities for him that are different than those tackle spots.”
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Kallenberger is a talented player but short of some sort of disaster, Wirfs and Jackson appear to have tackle locked down for the foreseeable future. That leaves opportunities at guard, where there is an unproven Ross Reynolds and a potential competition between Banwart and Levi Paulsen. He’ll continue to be Iowa’s second option at left tackle, but he could eventually be their first option at right or left guard.
LG #2: LANDAN PAULSEN (#68, Junior, 6’5, 305 lbs., Woodbury Central, Moville, IA)
Last year, I questioned whether or not it was time to start worrying about Landan, as he’d barely seen any action. Well, we’re back again and he doubled his playing time from his redshirt freshman to sophomore season: he’s played in two games. As a junior, he's finally cracked the depth chart, as Ross Reynolds’s backup. With there being questions about whether or not Reynolds is the future at guard, it seems like Paulsen needs to strike while the iron is hot, lest he become another lost four-star player that didn’t pan out on Iowa’s offensive line.
C #2: LEVI DUWA (#67, RS Freshman, 6'3, 270 lbs., Mid-Prairie, Kalona, IA)
Duwa was a surprise on the depth chart, as he only moved to offensive line following last season. A three-star recruit from Wellman, he chose Iowa over Minnesota and Eastern Michigan. He redshirted his freshman season (for, I suspect, recovering from injury reasons) and then made the move from defensive end. Iowa’s centers have been smaller and more athletic as of late (see: Daniels, James), and Duwa is the smallest offensive lineman on the depth chart, weighing in at only 270 pounds. It’s likely that he’ll need to put on a few more pounds before he sees consistent playing time.
RG #2: LEVI PAULSEN (#66, Junior, 6'5, 305 lbs., Woodbury Central, Moville, IA)
The probable starting right guard, Levi Paulsen, suffered some sort of undisclosed injury this spring and was forced to miss time. It must’ve been somewhat significant because it also cost him his spot on the depth chart this preseason. Now a junior, Levi has seen action in 19 games, including filling as Iowa’s starting right tackle in the Pinstripe Bowl. He has significantly more experience than anyone on the depth chart not named Jackson, Render or Wirfs, so we figure he’ll make his move back to a starting spot when he’s finally healthy.
RT #2: DALTON FERGUSON (#76, Senior, 6'4, 308 lbs., Solon, Solon, IA)
Ferguson was likely to challenge for a backup position in 2017…until he tore his ACL. A senior, he’s the only walk-on on Iowa’s depth chart and had seen increased playing time each season, thus the expectations for 2017. Unfortunately, he missed a majority of the season due to his injury. Now, he’s healthy and has a shot to at least finish his career as a reliable second option.
While You Wait For the Others
JAKE NEWBORG (#58, Junior, 6'3, 290 lbs., West Lyon, Inwood, IA)
KYLER SCHOTT (#64, RS Freshman, 6'2, 290 lbs., North Linn, Coggon, IA)
COY KIRKPATRICK (#72, RS Freshman, 6'4, 290 lbs., Madrid, Madrid, IA)
The coaches can’t seem to decide what they want to do with Newborg, as he’s moved from offensive line to defensive line and is now back to the offensive line this season. He’s never actually seen any action as an offensive lineman.
Schott walked on and redshirted last season, so we’ll continue to wait and see what he develops into.
Kirkpatrick was another defensive end convert, who chose Iowa over Iowa State. He redshirted last season and will likely continue to stay away from the depth chart as he learns the position.
They Were Only Freshmen
MATT FAGAN (Freshman, 6'5, 245 lbs., St. Albert, Council Bluffs, IA)
CODY INCE (Freshman, 6'5, 260 lbs., Unity, Luck, WI)
JEFF JENKINS (Freshman, 6'4, 270 lbs., Prairie Ridge, Crystal Lake, IL)
JACK PLUMB (Freshman, 6'8, 250 lbs., Bay Port, Green Bay, WI)
TREY WINTERS (Freshman, 6'5, 315 lbs., Centennial, Ankeny, IA)
We close out with Iowa’s long list of freshmen. Matt Fagan and Trey Winters joined the program as walk-ons. Fagan turned down offers from UNI and South Dakota and Winters is the son of former Iowa basketball player James Winters.
Cody Ince and Jack Plumb were both three-star recruits with respectable offer lists. Plumb is interesting, as he was a tight end recruit that is now listed as an offensive lineman. With the number of offensive lineman on the roster, it’s questionable as to whether or not he’ll remain on the line. Jeff Jenkins was also a three-star recruit but didn’t have the fanfare of Ince or Plumb.
To close: Iowa has a lot of offensive linemen. And with the new redshirt rules this season, there’s a chance we could get to see every one of them.