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Iowa Football 2019 Position Previews: Offensive Line

Can the big uglies be bigger and uglier?

NCAA Football: Iowa at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the thing about Iowa football. Everyone knows it’s O Line U. But not since Brandon Scherff in 2015 has Iowa had an offensive lineman go in the first round of the NFL Draft (Iowa has had 22 first round NFL draft picks, that’s kinda neat).

The sun will rise again on OLU.

Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson will likely bring back another lineman to the first round. If not this year as underclassmen, but next year as seniors.

The aforementioned are in charge of protecting Nathan Stanley. And they do a pretty good job. So let’s start with them.

The Bookends

First, we’ll talk about Alaric Jackson. He’s got 24 starts under his belt and he’s a reigning consensus all-conference runner-up at tackle. He’s 6-6, 320 lbs of nasty and he’s in charge of protecting Nate Stanley’s blindside. He’s got the money position for an o-lineman.

The craziest part about Alaric Jackson is the fact he didn’t play football until he was a junior in high school, leading to some growing pains:

He was rated the best pass-blocker in the conference last season by Pro Football Focus, and since he’s been going up against AJ Epenesa everyday, I bet we’ll see an even better version of Jackson in 2019.

Jackson can do more than his fair share of run-blocking, and really, I think this is going to be a special year for the guy. I wanna see Iowa’s offense click, and if Nate Stanley can sleep easy on Friday’s knowing Alaric Jackson has his back, then we’re all butter.

We’ll get to No. 3 on that above list in minute.

Actually, let’s just do it now.

There are many who think Tristan Wirfs has progressed into the more talented tackle on this team. There were even whispers he and Jackson were to switch sides this season to reflect this development. The first sentence is moot and the second is pointless.

Wirfs and Jackson are both excellent. I’m not prepared to say one is better than the other, because we’re all on the same team, man.

Wirfs has 20 starts to his name, was an honorable mention as a conference player a year ago (he didn’t allow a single sack at all in 2018) and did this thing in the weight room recently:

Wirfs is a Draftnik Darling, and at 6-5, 322 lbs, a force to be reckoned with. You know he’s getting reps against AJ Epenesa errday too. Iron sharpens iron and this offensive line is going to be looking like a block of Yoshihiro’s come September.

I mean just look at him eat this guy:

Look, I’ve already done your homework for you: Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson are pretty friggin’ special, and I think we’d be hard pressed to find a better tackle tandem in the country.

The Glue

We learned last week that converted defensive tackle Tyler Linderbaum switched sides of the ball, shifting Cole Banwart from center back to right guard. Linderbaum was a coveted defensive line recruit, earning a fringe 4-star rating from some services after getting invited to the Army All-American game.

A Solon native, Linderbaum is set to be the first redshirt freshman to start at Iowa since Rafael Eubanks in 2006.

Some will watch that video and notice Linderbaum has a very quick first step. They’d be right. Not even James Daniels started at center as a freshman (that may have been a Sean Welsh thing, though) so we’ve gotta feel pretty good about this Linderbaum fella.

Cole Banwart performed admirably as a guard a year ago, and since he’d be just as new as Linderbaum at the position, I feel good about Kirk’s judgment here.

Banwart has 7 starts to his name, all coming last year. He missed some time due to injury after the first two weeks, and eventually moved back into the fold as Iowa chemistrated with its interior offensive line. As you all know, the running game was not up to Iowa’s standard last year (and hasn’t really been for awhile tbh) and while I think there’s a lot of reasons why that was, I think the easy fix is a mean, gelling interior line.

To the left of Linderbaum is going to be Landan Paulsen. This was a bit of a surprise seeing as Landan has yet to start a game during his four years in the program; his only significant playing time has come on special teams. He was a starter on the two-deeps that dropped earlier in the spring, but so was his brother, Levi.

Levi Paulsen has now been relegated to backing up Banwart. But given his veteran status on the team, I bet he fills that sixth offensive lineman role, coming off the bench when and where he’s needed. He’s started three games in his career, two of them at the tackle positions.

On paper, it looks like we have six solid guys here. I want to be the bullies of the Big Ten again, and these are the ones who have to make that happen.

The rest

It’s a whole lotta young’uns on the two-deeps after the above:

LT: Mark Kallenberger—Sophomore

LG: Cody Ince—Redshirt Freshman

C: Jeff Jenkins—Redshirt Freshman

RT: Jack Plumb—Redshirt Freshman

Of those four, Kallenberger is the most interesting proposition to me. He’s the only other player on the roster who’s played a snap as an offensive lineman for Iowa along with the above group (outside Linderbaum).

A Bettendorf native, he had offers from places like Wisconsin and Nebraska but stayed home. Kallenberger started against Northern Illinois as a redshirt freshman last year as Alaric Jackson served a suspension, and played admirably against Sutton Smith.

He didn’t see the field much after that, but at 6-5, 288 lbs, he could be another jack of all trades lineman for Iowa this year.

Cody Ince might get the chance to play some guard reps this year after also switching sides of the ball, but between the Paulsen’s and Kallenberger, disaster would have to strike for that to happen.

Listed at 266 lbs, I just don’t think Jeff Jenkins is there yet. He could put on another 10 or so quickly, but he needs another year of Doyle.

Jack Plumb is another really interesting project. He was a tight end recruit from Wisconsin, so has a really nice frame at 6-7, 272 lbs, albeit on the lighter side. He got some snaps without having to burn his redshirt against Illinois last year, and it appears as though the table is set for Plumb to take over as a starter at a tackle spot in 2020, should Wirfs and or Jackson leave early.

Other guys I could see cracking the depth charts are sophomores Coy Kirkpatrick (6-4, 291 lbs) and Kyler Schott (6-2, 290). Just about all the other linemen on Iowa’s roster are freshmen, and I’ve got high confidence in the guys that the coaches have high confidence in.

So, tell ya what. I feel pretty good about the names above. Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs could go down as some of Iowa’s greatest. The interior line will have two veteran guards to break in a greenhorn at center. There are more than a couple capable backups to slide in when needed. These guys are going up against some of the best defensive linemen in country every single day in practice.

Nate Stanley is gonna have some time to throw. The wide receivers are gonna have some to time to get open. There’s gonna be some holes for these running backs to run through. The boys are hungry. It’s time to eat.