|97||Tyler Kluver||SO(RS)||6-0/220||Long Snapper|
Previously on Assume the Position:
This is it. This is the end of Assume the Position. And to tell you the truth, we have no idea what to think of this offensive line. Is it possible that we've only seen two bad days from an otherwise solid set of tackles? Sure. Is it possible that Drew Ott has become the reincarnation of 2004 Julius Peppers? I suppose, yeah. Is it possible that we have no idea what we're talking about and everything is OK? With this position group more than any other, absolutely.
But is it possible that the offensive line could bring down the entire 2015 season and, ironically, the Ferentz era with it? If what we've seen is any indication, yes, it's possible.
Let's just hope that Drew Ott is awesome.
C: Austin Blythe (#63, Senior (RS), 6'3, 290 lbs., Williamsburg (Iowa) HS)
"I didn't come to Iowa to go 7-6."
With that statement at Big Ten Media Days, senior center Austin Blythe reassured us that this year was going to be OK. Because while there are question marks all over this position group, Blythe is both their unquestioned leader and best player. Boone Myers might not be able to replace Brandon Scherff, but his presence in the huddle falls to the redshirt senior at center.
Blythe was a consensus four-star recruit at Williamsburg, a town 20 miles west of Iowa City known more for its outlet mall than anything else, and committed to Iowa early. He was a starter by his redshirt freshman season at guard and moved to center as a sophomore; of the 68 returning starts on Iowa's offensive line this year, Blythe holds 35 of them. He's made a steady progression toward excellence: First team freshman all-American in 2012, honorable mention all-conference in 2013, and second team all-conference last year, when he spent the second half of the season back at guard to give Tommy Gaul a spot and make the line ostensibly better. And while Iowa has a line full of questions, the only one about Blythe is whether he can be an all-American.
But Blythe's more important role could come in the huddle, where Iowa is recovering from apparent leadership problems. His leadership role on the line is so entrenched that teammates call him "Dad," after all. Blythe's quote above is more than just a statement of frustration; it's a bit of much-needed defiance, a refusal to accept Iowa's condition over the last five seasons. Defiance alone cannot win games, but it certainly doesn't hurt,
LG: Jordan Walsh (#65, Senior (RS), 6'4, 290 lbs., Glenbard West HS (Glendale, Ill.)
RG: Sean Welsh (#79, Sophomore (RS), 6'3, 290 lbs., Springboro (Ohio) HS)
Walsh and Welsh, Iowa's starters at guard beginning last August, should be the triumph of recruiting rankings over the rabble. Walsh was more highly-regarded than Blythe when he left Glendale, with an offer sheet including USC, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Tennessee. Welsh only received three stars, but was being pursued by Ohio State, Alabama, Louisville and Miami. If the company you keep is any sign of talent, these two should be superstars.
And yet Walsh, who has 20 starts under his belt over the last two seasons, has struggled with consistency. A guard in Iowa's running scheme should spend plenty of time destroying linebackers and extending two-yard carries into the defensive backfield. Too often, Walsh is stuck at the defensive line, leaving unblocked linebackers to clean up.
Welsh is just a sophomore, so his mistakes are more explainable. But Welsh's issues for this season stem less from his prior play or lack of experience, and more from the fact that he's been gone from the team for most of the offseason. Welsh did not play in spring practice and missed a significant portion of summer workouts while dealing with some sort of issue back home in Ohio. He's still with the team, but the lack of development over his second offseason with the program is problematic.
Iowa had the Outland Trophy winner at left tackle, a fourth-round draft pick at right tackle, and a second-team all-conference performer at center. Iowa ranked 97th in Adj. Line Yards.
Rarely will you see something that incongruous. This tells you quite a bit about the quality of the running backs -- in terms of unadjusted stats, Iowa was top-50 in stuff rate (avoiding run stops behind the line) and power success rate but was just 87th in opportunity rate (carries of at least five yards), and if you wanted to pin the line's failings on the backs, that's a good place to start.
Iowa's guard problems could resolve with better halfback performance, as line blocks could be released more quickly and linebackers targeted more effectively. If we see a big step forward from the interior line this season, it could be natural progression combined with a better vehicle running behind that line; in other words, it might not be their fault.
Doom, Starring The Rock
LT: Boone Myers (#52, Sophomore (RS), 6'5, 300 lbs., Webster City (Iowa) HS)
RT: Ike Boettger (#75, Sophomore (RS), 6'6, 300 lbs., Cedar Falls (Iowa) HS)
And so we come to an Assume the Position tradition: The source of panic in the final post. Iowa lost an Outland Award winner and an NFL-caliber starter at the tackle positions, and years of recruiting flubs has left the tackle cupboard as bare as it has been since 1999.
The replacements are the same guys we've heard about since January: Converted tight end Ike Boettger at right tackle, and former walk-on Boone Myers on the left. Boettger is, in many ways, a prototype for Iowa's best tackles: A high school quarterback recruited as a tight end but quickly identified as a potential lineman who thrived under Chris Doyle during his redshirt season. He's gone from 232 pounds as a high school senior to 300 (and, in actuality, probably somewhere around 315) as a redshirt sophomore. By all indications, he's a road grader in run blocking and improving as a pass blocker. Of all the issues on this team, right tackle might not be in the top 5 if things go as planned.
Left tackle, on the other hand, would be problems one through five on that list. Boone Myers, like Boettger, was a high school tight end. Myers, like Boettger, added 50 pounds in his first two years on campus. Both players are Reese Morgan guys -- Myers' high school coach said he's never seen Morgan speak as highly of a player as he did of Myers -- and both are essentially new to the position each inherits. But unlike Boettger, whose pass blocking deficiencies can be largely covered by Beathard's scrambling ability -- Myers sits on Beathard's blind side and will face the best pass rusher that every team has to offer. And results so far have been lackluster at best. Myers was lit up by Drew Ott during the spring scrimmages, but those performances were Orlando Pace-like compared to the six sacks he conceded during the August open scrimmage. Iowa's coaches have been supportive; one gets the sense from their comments that Myers might have a problem playing for a crowd, and that practice is a different story. But a team's place in history isn't judged by how it practices. Any stage fright needs to be eliminated immediately, or Iowa is going to struggle to do anything offensively this season.
James Daniels (#78, Freshman, 6'4, 285 lbs., Harding HS (Warren, Ohio))
You see that string of redshirts above? It takes someone special to not redshirt as an offensive lineman at Iowa. Bryan Bulaga was that kind of special. Marshal Yanda was that kind of special, though he had two years of junior college football under his belt before he arrived in Iowa City. And now James Daniels, the unquestioned star of Iowa's 2015 recruiting haul, joins that club.
Daniels had the kind of offer sheet you covet: Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, Michigan State, Wisconsin, et cetera, et cetera. Iowa had an in with him and his family: His brother, LeShun is a (now-starting) halfback on this team, and the staff had built a relationship and a level of trust with the family before James was one of the most coveted center recruits in the country. And so Iowa won a rare hat day ceremony, and Daniels arrived on campus early for spring practices.
Daniels held 16 offers from Power 5 schools, and for good reason. He's already built like a Big Ten lineman, he is smart enough to play center at this level, and he's got a mean streak. That, combined with his experience from spring, has coaches salivating. yes, Walsh and Welsh are the current starters at guard, but that might not be for long.
The Old Hand
Eric Simmons (#58, Senior (RS), 6'2, 295 lbs., Madrid (Iowa) HS/Iowa Western C.C.)
Eric Simmons embarks on what feels like his 17th season with the program, remarkable for a player who started at a junior college. He's popped up on the offensive line to replace injured players at times, and was a special teams stalwart this year. His size isn't ideal for a guard, and Iowa would presumably move Blythe to guard to make way for Simmons if he is going to be used, but he's listed as the backup at both center and right guard entering Week 1. It's rare for a senior to usurp a younger player in this program, but if the guards continue to be meh, Simmons might finally see some significant playing time.
No, The OTHER Walk-On Tackle
Cole Croston (#64, Junior (RS), 6'5, 295 lbs., Sergeant Bluff-Lyton (Iowa) HS)
There was a rumor floating around after Myers' August scrimmage performance that Croston was the new starter at left tackle. That rumor was shot down by the staff, but Ferentz has effectively admitted that Croston (1) is the backup at both tackle positions, no matter what the depth chart says, and (2) is going to play, and play often. And so you can expect Croston -- himself a walk-on from northwest Iowa -- will see some action this year. To date, all we know about him comes from some garbage time minutes against Minnesota last year and Nebraska and Purdue the year before that, but hey, he's a warm body.
While You Wait for the Others
Steve Ferentz (#54, Junior (RS), 6'2, 278 lbs., Iowa City (Iowa) HS)
The third Ferentz boy to come through the program did what his brothers did: He bulked up and moved to center. Both Brian and James were damn fine centers by the time they left the program, but Steve carries neither the size nor the recruiting pedigree of his older siblings, and he'll likely be passed by Daniels before he breaks into the lineup.
Ryan Ward (#73, Junior (RS), 6'5, 290 lbs., Providence Catholic HS (Homer Glen, Ill.)
Ward, a four-star tackle prospect out of high school, looks increasingly like another four-star tackle bust, joining the likes of Dan Doering, Blake Larsen and Chris Felder. It's a damn shame, because if there's one thing this team needs, it's a four-star tackle. Ward might have a chance at Walsh's guard spot next season, but it's more likely that he never sees regular action.
Mitch Keppy (#74, Junior (RS), 6'5, 300 lbs., Riverdale HS (Port Byron, Ill.))
Keppy was one of the first offers, and the first commit, in Iowa's 2012 class, mostly because he was a perfect Ferentz recruit. His father was a defensive lineman on the 1986 Iowa Rose Bowl team, he was an accomplished high school wrestler, and he attended their junior camp and impressed. But he hasn't sniffed the field since getting to Iowa City, and there's no reason to expect anything else in the next four months. Essentially, the entire 2012 class of offensive linemen is a wash-out.
Keegan Render (#69, Freshman (RS), 6'4, 305 lbs., Indianola (Iowa) HS)
There's some potential here: Render is listed as the backup at right tackle, and he certainly has the size to play the position. If Boettger falters (or if Myers falters and Boettger moves to left tackle), there is at least the chance that Render gets on the field this year. But Ferentz has said that Croston is effectively the backup at both tackle positions, so that possibility remains unlikely. Look for a breakthrough in 2016 with a bit more weight room time.
Ross Reynolds (#59, Freshman (RS), 6'4, 300 lbs., Waukee (Iowa) HS)
Reynolds was a grayshirt-turned-scholarship in the Class of 2014, and those guys usually need some seasoning unless they fell through the cracks from middle-of-nowhere Iowa/South Dakota/Nebraska. Waukee, one of the biggest schools in the state, is hardly the middle of nowhere. See ya in 2016.
Lucas LeGrand (#70, Freshman (RS), 6'5, 280 lbs., Senior HS (Dubuque, Iowa))
Another in-state commit from the 2014 class, another wait-and-see approach to a borderline recruit. LeGrand had arguably the best recruiting ratings of any offensive lineman in that class, but his only other offer was from Northern Colorado. More troubling: He's only added 20 pounds in a redshirt season, and looks a bit undersized for any position on this line at the moment.
The Other Freshmen
Levi Paulsen (#66, Freshman, 6'5, 290 lbs., Woodbury Central HS (Movile, Iowa))
Landan Paulsen (#68, Freshman, 6'5, 290 lbs., Woodbury Central HS (Movile, Iowa))
Jacob Newborg (#57, Freshman, 6'3, 280 lbs., West Lyon HS (Inwood, Iowa))
Brett Waechter (#71, Freshman, 6'5, 275 lbs., HMS HS (Hartley, Iowa))
Iowa plucked four freshman linemen from northwest Iowa, all keyed by the early commits of the Paulsen twins. And while Iowa's coaches appear to be truly excited about all four of them, you can look at that list of redshirts above and understand that there's little-to-no chance that any of these four see the field in 2015. The Myers-Boettger-Render-Paulsen battle at tackle could get interesting in the next few years, though.