116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — George Barnett doesn’t have an easy task this year.
The second-year Iowa offensive line coach is overseeing a young group. One starter is a redshirt freshman. Another three are sophomores, and one is a junior.
“The challenges will keep coming, but that’s the exciting part of this,” Barnett said to reporters via Zoom Wednesday. “I couldn’t be more excited about this group and the direction it’s headed.”
As Barnett approaches the fifth football game with the 2022 offensive line amid the exciting challenge, Iowa still is tinkering with the rotation.
The starting five has been the same each week — Mason Richman, Nick DeJong, Logan Jones, Beau Stephens and Connor Colby, from left to right.
The roles of other offensive linemen have varied, especially at guard.
Tyler Elsbury, for example, went from not playing any offensive snaps in Week 1 or Week 2 to playing 30 snaps in Week 3 and 27 in Week 4, per Pro Football Focus.
Gennings Dunker also has seen some variance in playing time while DeJong and Stephens occupy the starting guard spots.
“What we’re looking for is physicality,” Barnett said. “That’s been a premium.”
Determining who can best provide that physicality is not so simple. Barnett described it as a “sliding scale.”
“We’ve got a couple older guys that have a little bit more knowledge base and a little bit more experience,” Barnett said. “And then we have a couple young guys that have a high level of physicality, but they have less practice experience and playing experience.”
DeJong would likely fall into the first category of more experience, and someone like Elsbury or Dunker would likely fall into the other category.
Giving a younger, less experienced player a lighter workload can sometimes lead to better results.
“If you go out cold and start running 50 to 70 plays as a first-year starter, sometimes it looks like, ‘Man, this kid’s not playing very well,’” Barnett said. “But if you can trim his reps a little bit and cut his workload, the concentration of a smaller workload might be better.”
At the same time, a player who “does a really nice job” with 10 reps might get 20 the following week.
“It’ll always increase as time goes, but that plays into the decision-making quite a bit,” Barnett said.
The answer to which guy plays can depend on “what are we looking for that week” or, on a smaller scale, what Iowa is looking for on a particular drive.
“It’s two-minute, we may have to go with the older guy that’s seen all the exotic blitzes we may not be ready for,” Barnett said.
Different positions are on different spots on the “sliding scale.”
DeJong has taken 169 of 235 possible snaps as one of the more experienced options at left guard while Elsbury and Dunker have smaller roles.
Right tackle has been on the other side of the scale.
Jack Plumb, a senior, is the more experienced option, but sophomore Colby has seen the bulk of opportunities.
“The more you see of Connor, the better he’s going to get,” Barnett said.
Colby has taken 207 snaps. Plumb has taken 32.
Center and left tackle have not been on the scale, albeit for different reasons.
All of Iowa’s options at center lack experience after the departure via the NFL Draft of the omnipresent Tyler Linderbaum. That has forced Logan Jones, who was a defensive lineman seven months ago, to learn quickly with a heavy workload.
“His mistakes that he’s made here and there — enjoy them while they last,” Barnett said. “They’re probably going to go away as time goes.”
Richman, meanwhile, has been “still developing” at left tackle, but is one of the most experienced options in the position group.
“Within our group, he’s the leader,” Barnett said. “Our young guys probably think he’s a senior.”
It’s possible for the “sliding scale” to continue to slide.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz said the not-etched-in-stone rotation has “been good for the guys.”
“I don't think it's hurt anybody,” Ferentz said. “I don't think it's a bad thing, quite frankly, especially with guys that aren't established.”