116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Developing offensive linemen to play at the Big Ten level doesn’t exactly happen overnight.
“If you're a fan of the microwave, you're probably not going to be an offensive line coach,” Iowa offensive line coach George Barnett said in the spring. “You're more of a conventional oven type of guy, and you realize things take time.”
The first half of the 2022 football season seems to be a case study for that.
Football Outsiders tracks line yards per carry, which approximates how many yards the offensive line is responsible for on running plays.
Iowa, with 2.21 line yards per carry, ranks 123rd in the country and 13th in the Big Ten. Indiana, which is on a three-game losing streak, is the only conference foe with a worse average.
Pro Football Focus’ grades rank the Hawkeyes 130th in pass blocking and 77th in run blocking.
“In fairness to some of those players, I've seen improvement,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said this week. “I've seen marked improvement with some guys. I think a lot of guys are making strides.”
Iowa’s rotational offensive linemen have had little time to make those strides, though.
The two recruiting classes of offensive linemen that would be, when factoring redshirt years, juniors and seniors in 2022 have not panned out.
The 2018 recruiting class consisted of three scholarship offensive linemen — Jeff Jenkins, Jack Plumb and Cody Ince. (Tyler Linderbaum also was part of the 2018 class, but he committed as a defensive lineman and entered the NFL Draft after last season.)
Jenkins took 15 snaps in an Iowa uniform, according to PFF, before eventually leaving football after the 2019 season. Injuries derailed Ince’s career, and he ended his football career before 2022 spring practices.
That leaves Plumb as the only scholarship player from the 2018 class still on Iowa’s roster, and he has the worst PFF grade of any of the Hawkeyes’ offensive linemen.
The 2019 class came in with high marks. Two offensive linemen — Ezra Miller and Tyler Endres — had four-star ratings from 247Sports. Justin Britt and Noah Fenske had three-star ratings.
Miller transferred to Nebraska after not seeing any game action in his first year in Iowa City. Endres remains on Iowa’s roster, but has yet to appear in a game.
Fenske transferred to Colorado after taking one snap in one game in his first two years at Iowa.
Britt is the only scholarship 2019 offensive lineman on the roster, and he’s missing the entire 2022 season because of an injury.
Nick DeJong, who arrived on campus as a walk-on, has been the only 2019 recruit to take a snap this season.
That has left some pressure on Barnett, who took the offensive line job in 2021, to get more production from the 2020 and ’21 classes.
Mason Richman has started 18 games as a Hawkeye and has been the most productive out of the three offensive line recruits in the 2020 class despite playing defensive line in high school.
Fellow 2020 recruit Tyler Elsbury’s role had been limited early in the season, but he made his first career start in the Illinois loss. Josh Volk has not made a significant on-field impact yet.
The 2021 class has played an especially large role in the 2022 offensive line rotation.
Connor Colby and Beau Stephens have been consistent starters, and Gennings Dunker has had a prominent role off the bench.
Michael Myslinski and David Davidkov have not seen significant action yet. Davidkov is out for the season with an injury, and Myslinski missed significant time of offseason development because of an injury.
Position changes have served as one avenue for Iowa to shore up its offensive line position.
Linderbaum moved from defensive line to offensive line after the 2018 season and was an all-Big Ten honorable mention in his first year at his new position. By the time he went pro, the Solon native was the 12th player in Iowa history to be a unanimous consensus All-American.
Logan Jones, a former four-star defensive lineman in the 2020 recruiting class, made that same position change after the 2021 season.
The timing of the position change — Kirk Ferentz approached him about it during winter strength and conditioning and after any remaining practices with the then-NFL-bound Linderbaum — likely limited how much Jones could glean from Linderbaum.
The staff has high expectations for Jones, though.
“His mistakes that he’s made here and there — enjoy them while they last,” Barnett said earlier this season.