The offensive line and tight end positions are an absolute goldmine when it comes to Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa coaching staff. If there’s anything that Iowa does best, it’s the development of these two positions. Iowa has produced so much tight end and offensive line talent to the NFL and they do it better than just about anyone else.
Who in the Class of 2017 will be groomed to reach the next level? Let’s recap Iowa’s haul at these two positions from #Swarm17.
Weight: 210 lb
Hometown/High School: Solon High School - Solon, IA
Composite Rating: 3-star ATH - 1,387 Overall, 91 ATH
Other Offers: Iowa State
Jacob Coons could be the next great Iowa tight end. They noticed him his sophomore year of high school and gave him an offer, which he accepted way back in December of 2015. That’d make him the first commitment of the Class of 2017 (you know, if you don’t count Juan Harris’ first and second commitments before eventually decommitting). The Hawks have known for a while now that he’s a player they want.
Coons shows the ability to get open and make great catches. He’s got some pretty good speed for someone of his height, which is going to help him in the receiving end of things. But what the Hawkeyes really liked, of course, was his ability to block. Iowa uses tight ends in that oh so Iowa way that we all know about, and if you’re going to play tight end at Iowa, you need to get dirty in the trenches. Coons shows the ability and the willingness to do that, and that’s what makes him the prototypical Iowa tight end. Once he puts on a little bit of weight, he’ll be just about the perfect size to line up against linebackers and defensive ends.
Of course, Coons is going to have to figure out how he’s going to get onto the field. While George Kittle is departing after graduation, Iowa has a logjam of players at the tight end position. Noah Fant, Peter Pekar, and Jon Wisnieski all saw good playing time in 2016, not to mention that there are three other tight ends on the roster already. Coons is likely to redshirt in 2017, and after then, Pekar and Wisnieski will have graduated, so he’s likely to get an opportunity to hit the field.
Sophomore highlights (most recent):
Weight: 290 lb
Hometown/High School: Mount Vernon High School - Mount Vernon, IA
Composite Rating: 4-star - 327 Overall, 31 OT
Other Offers: Iowa State
Tristan Wirfs looks like he could be the left tackle of the future for Iowa, which is high praise. Iowa has a long history of producing NFL players out of the left tackle position, and in case you didn’t know, Riley Rieff, Brandon Scherff, Bryan Bulaga, Robert Gallery, and Marshal Yanda were all Iowa left tackles to get drafted to the NFL. He looks like he could be the next great one, and he already has the build straight out of high school to get there.
Wirfs was an Army All-American at the end of his senior season and he absolutely mauls opponents who try to rush past him. The story goes that many opposing defensive ends would begin to pass rush him and then suddenly stop because they were afraid of being manhandled by him in the trenches. Seriously, this is a real story. Alongside his skill, he has extraordinary discipline and work ethic. He wanted to wrestle at heavyweight, and so he dropped 30+ pounds to get down to weight. He’s exactly the kind of player who has the physical and mental tools to be great.
As it stands right now, the majority of Iowa’s offensive linemen spots in 2017 are spoken for. Boone Myers, Ike Boettger, James Daniels, and Sean Welsh all return, so that leaves one spot open and many to compete for it. You would think that one of the Paulsens or Keegan Render would have an inside shot at it, but there is a chance Wirfs can compete for it. Things clear up a bit after the 2017 season, as Boettger, Myers, and Welsh all graduate. I’d look for Wirfs to be starting in 2018, potentially at guard, before moving to tackle later in his career.
Weight: 250 lb
Hometown/High School: Bettendorf High School - Bettendorf, IA
Composite Rating: 3-star - 362 Overall, 33 OT
Other Offers: Colorado State, Iowa State, Eastern Michigan, Kansas State, Nebraska
Mark Kallenberger is a similar case to Tristan Wirfs, although in high school, he played on the right side of the line. He has the frame and the athleticism to stay out there, too. There’s a reason why Kallenberger had offers from three other Power-5 schools.
The biggest trick with Kallenberger is that he’s going to need to put on weight. According to 247 Sports, he only weighs 250 pounds, which most definitely isn’t going to cut it in the Big Ten where rushers are ferocious and huge. He cited Chris Doyle and the strength and conditioning program at Iowa as a huge factor for him choosing the school, because he knows he needs to put on some bulk in order to succeed at the next level. Everyone knows that Doyle can do it as long as Kallenberger is up to the task, and it appears as though he is.
The 2017 outlook for Kallenberger is that he’ll likely redshirt. He’s not in a position currently where he’s ready to compete at the Big Ten level. He appears to have the mental toughness and frame to succeed, but he’ll need to bulk up in order to get the most out of those two qualities. He’ll likely be in competition to start in a couple years, potentially by his redshirt sophomore year.