I began these position previews under the guise of how compelling I found each position battle and now that we’re staring down the barrel of offensive tackle in August, there’s the case it’s not all that compelling! Iowa returns all 28 starts at the two slots last year with Mason Richman (12 starts), Nick DeJong (9 starts), & Jack Plumb (7 starts). So not that compelling!
What is compelling, though, is that the group was inconsistent on their best days and turnstiles on their worst. Right tackle was particularly gnarly as Iowa struggled keeping Aidan Hutchinson, George Karlaftis, et al out of the backfield and the Hawkeye quarterback upright. All told, Iowa yielded a pedestrian 2.2 sacks per game (64th in the country) which looks worse when adjusting for the fact Iowa doesn’t pass all that much - 7.13% sack rate, good for 80th in the country.
The reason for optimism is the line looked much better in the Citrus Bowl. However, the Wildcat group Iowa was going against was down eight players due to injury and COVID-19 protocols, including Kentucky’s top two pass rushers (11.5 sacks & 25.5 tackles for loss between them).
Anyways, let’s get to the details before I get too pessimistic!
The good story?
Scott Dochterman wrote it in his write-up yesterday that Iowa football tends to have a senior emerge along the line just in time for them to hang up their cleats. Jordan Walsh springs to mind, as does Adam Gettis. While Plumb does not necessarily match the ebbs and flows of the previous two (both were marred by injuries during much of their time in the black & gold whereas Plumb has started games in each of the last two seasons and contributed on special teams in 2019) getting high-level play at a position the Hawks sorely need would fit that narrative.
He came to Iowa at a slight 6’7”, 230 out of Wisconsin and is nearing 300 pounds as a redshirt senior. He has some athleticism, as a former hooper, but has struggled in pass rush situations. It’s led to ends right in the face of Spencer Petras and gotten Iowa’s offense off schedule as a result. The question, of course, is if he can put it all together and raise the floor of his play? Doing so will make it less easy for a defensive coordinator to line his best rusher opposite Plumb to disrupt the Hawkeyes rhythm.
Other returning contributors
Both DeJong & Richman took their share of lumps in their first extended snaps last season, with redshirt sophomore Richman holding down left tackle for the bulk of 2021. Both stand 6’6” and 300(-plus) pounds, which is more in line with what is expected as bookends.
DeJong came to Iowa as a walk-on while Richman was a four-star according to 247 (three-star composite). The two looked best in the run game where they could play downhill while Richman’s play was steadiest of those receiving time at tackle and enters fall camp as the starter at LT.
The guy who could slide outside?
Connor Colby, for my money, is the best returning offensive lineman after a season spent at right guard straight out of high school. He’s quick and plays to the whistle. I’m a little surprised we’re not seeing him mentioned as someone who could hold down the fort on the edge over the next couple seasons considering what he’s shown in his young career.
My theory? Jack Plumb is simply keeping the seat at right tackle warm for Kadyn Proctor to slide right in as a starter in 2023. If Iowa can’t find someone to hold down RT, though, I suspect Colby will get a chance out there.
Backups and underclassmen
Redshirt freshmen David Davidkov & Beau Stephens joined Colby as 4-star recruits in last year’s class with Davidkov currently listed as backup LT. Stephens is behind Colby at right guard. Unlike past Hawkeye recruits at the position, both look ready-made to play if necessary with frames in line with everyone mentioned so far.
The 2022 class include Kale Krough & Jack Doltzer but neither enter as ready-made (both under 280 pounds) as the guys already listed. They’ll need a Braithwatening to get where they need to be to contribute as Big Ten lineman.
Tyler Elsbury was slated as a tackle coming out of high school and is currently listed at starting guard.
Tackle is arguably Iowa’s biggest position of need for the 2022 season and the staff felt comfortable with the group they had so they didn’t dip into the portal like in the past. Improvement will need to come the old fashioned way - development - and there’s optimism the guys on the roster can get to where they need to be for Iowa to have success in the pass & run games.