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FOURTH DOWN — What we learned this spring
Iowa needs some growth here. Once you get past senior left tackle Brandon Scherff (one of the if not the best OL in college football) and junior center Austin Blythe (super valuable player given his experience), the idea that Iowa could have a super dominant offensive line is a “maybe.”
Junior guard Jordan Walsh is the other returning starter. He started, but didn’t play complete games last season. Senior right tackle Andrew Donnal will be depended upon at tackle for the first time in his career. Guard Sean Welsh will be seeing the first plays of his career.
So, Iowa has players, some great ones, too, but it doesn’t have a ton of experience. The Hawkeyes have run this route on the offensive line, so it’s not a hot button, but there’s also some players with short resumes who’ll play key roles.
THIRD DOWN — Who’s the No. 3 tackle?
It’s hard to say. During the spring game, sophomore walk-on Cole Croston (6-5, 270) was the first tackle off the bench. Croston and red-shirt freshman Ike Boettger (6-6, 267) were the No. 2 tackles, with Welsh and sophomore Ryan Ward (6-5, 290). Earlier this spring, red-shirt freshman walk-on Boone Myers (6-5, 285) was listed in the mix at No. 2 left tackle.
It’s probably easier to pick out who definitely won’t be the No. 3 OT. Why is this an important position? After Scherff and Donnal, the experienced depth evaporates. None of the players listed above has played beyond mop-up.
Maybe the No. 3 OT is something Iowa will never have to break out this season. Scherff missed a few series here and there in 2013. Donnal mixed in at guard and played every position on the OL except center. But there’s also the possibility of emergency, like in 2012 when Scherff and Donnal were lost for the season in a span of three plays against Penn State.
Iowa spent OL scholarships for personnel upgrades at wide receiver in 2013 and defensive back in ‘14. It’s left the Hawkeyes a tightrope to walk with O-line depth (Iowa has three O-line commitments for the 2015 class, so the replenishing has begun.)
SECOND DOWN — Who said what?
“Sean’s handled himself very well since he stepped on campus, really going back to the recruiting process. He acts like one of our type of guys. He plays like one of our type of guys. What he needs to improve on is playing. He hasn’t played very much. That’s not his fault, but he needs to get more experience and continue to grow, and the only way to do that is to play.” — Iowa OL coach Brian Ferentz on red-shirt freshman Sean Welsh
“The offensive line is an area where we lost two really good players, Brett Van Sloten and Connor Bofelli. So, the depth there is a concern. I think the first group has come along pretty well this spring, but we are concerned about the depth.” — Offensive coordinator Greg Davis
“I know NFL guys do work and they care about certain things, I understand that, the draft process, but in my estimation, he [Scherff] was certainly one of the best football players in the country last year. I don’t know if he deserved or received the proper recognition for that. I would expect him to this year. If he doesn’t, I don’t know what people are watching or what they value or what’s important. But he does everything right. He plays football the way football is supposed to be played, and he acts the way football players are supposed to act on the field, off the field, in the building, out of the building. Basically, as long as PETA or animal rights groups don’t get involved, I think he should be pretty popular. They may not like him so much.” — Brian Ferentz on senior OT Brandon Scherff
FIRST DOWN — Summer cliffhanger
It’s a quest for depth. We’ve discussed that and it’s not something that will be found during summer conditioning. That will be front and center for Brian Ferentz when August camp opens.
A few other notions:
— Is Scherff an Outland Trophy candidate? OK, that’s a silly statement. He is, and Brian Ferentz clearly sold out on that topic when he spoke to the media last month. It was a smart move. You’ll start to notice the “watch lists” roll out anytime now. Yes, the watch lists merit eye rolls across the board, but it’s better to be on and at the top of them rather than absent. Serious Outland candidacies started with last year’s game film, but, like it or not, there is a hype aspect that needs some tending. The Scherff campaign is up and running. We could see more from that in the coming months.
— How many more OL will Iowa take in the 2015 class? Right now, Iowa has a center type in Jacob Newborg (6-3, 271), a West Lyon prep who also could end up on the defensive line. Iowa also has commitments from Landan (6-6, 285) and Levi (6-6, 275) Paulsen, twin tackle prospects from Woodbury Central. Iowa has offers out to three tackles, three guards and a center. Iowa needs some depth here, so maybe two more if the staff finds the right fits.
— Head coach Kirk Ferentz believes Donnal’s best football is in front of him. He suffered a torn ACL in 2012 and made it back to play last season, where he played more inside than at tackle, which is the 6-7, 305-pounder’s natural position.
“Andrew is a player we think is better suited to play tackle and he did a good job at guard,” Ferentz said. “He and Brandon when they got hurt a year ago, that was tough on both those guys. Obviously, they had to go through the rehab and all that stuff, and Andrew’s lingered a little bit longer. It impedes development. And all of us felt in November things started happening for him. Fortunately, last year worked out really well and he played well for us when he was in there. We have all the confidence in the world he’ll play well for us. I don’t think he’s overwhelmed at all. He’s excited about it, and I think he’s totally comfortable out in that position.”
— Is Walsh (6-4, 290) ready to solidify his spot at right guard? Brian Ferentz wants to see consistency.
“I think that’s what it boils down to for anyone,” he said. “That’s the difference, if you look at last year, and it’s certainly no knock on Jordan or Andrew or Nolan [MacMillan]. But you look at Connor, Brandon, Austin, and Brett, from a consistency standpoint, those four guys were more consistent than the other three, and that’s why they didn’t come out of the football game, and that’s why the other three guys rotated.
“So for Jordan, what he has to improve is his consistency. He’s capable of being a great player, and he flashes that at times. He needs to do that all the time. That’s what we’re looking for, and he knows that. I expect at this point in his development, he’s older. He’s a year older. He’s a fourth-year guy, and I would expect to see that from him.”
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