116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
WEST DES MOINES - Given the chance to reflect on his days as a prep quarterback at Cedar Falls High School, Ike Boettger didn't even crack a smile.
It wasn't that long ago the 6-6, 300-pound right tackle lined up under center. Yes, look at what kind of football player he is now, a massive right tackle who's holding down the No. 1 spot for the Iowa Hawkeyes nine practices into spring drills.
Boettger acknowledged that, yeah, weird, different path to the O-line, but the story continues and he's more into the job at hand.
'It's time to move on,” said Boettger after the Hawkeyes punched in for a three-hour practice Saturday at Valley Stadium. 'That was fun back then, but now it's on to offensive line at Iowa. There's nowhere else I'd rather be.”
Saturday was the first public glimpse of Iowa 2015. It went like a lot of these go. The defense was miles ahead of the offense. Running lanes were few and far between with a relatively new O-line butting heads with a veteran defensive line. There were a lot of those 'tag-up” sacks you see in spring and fall drills.
At the end of the scrimmage, when the offense was given a first down at the defense's 45-yard line, the defense was hooting and hollering about a dominating performance that was punctuated by a slam shot from free safety Jordan Lomax on running back Jordan Canzeri and then, on the first team's last play from scrimmage, cornerback Greg Mabin stripped the ball from wide receiver Matt VandeBerg and defensive end Nate Meier recovered.
The defense scored the day's lone TD, a pick six from reserve linebacker Cole Fisher from about midfield on a sideline pass from backup QB Tyler Wiegers. Kicker Marshall Koehn hit a 52-yard field goal for the first-team offense's only points.
Back to the big-picture stuff and, specifically, the new offensive tackles. Saturday was the first look for the public and, clearly, Iowa's rookie tackles Boettger and fellow redshirt sophomore Boone Myers struggled against Meier and Drew Ott, both of whom are seniors and returning starters.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has coached offensive lines since the early ‘80s. He's seen every stage of development from turnstile to Outland Trophy. He's not sounding the alarm. The projecting with these tackles began last August, when Ferentz admitted, yes, he was concerned. Ferentz saw growth in December and is now OK with their progress.
On the first-unit offensive line: 'Really, where we are young right now shows up and has shown up in the nine workouts,” Ferentz said. 'We're veteran at the defensive end position and not so on the offensive tackle spot. I think it was better today, but we're still growing.”
Boettger struggled at times with Meier's explosion. When he got his hands on him, he was able to lock on. As Ferentz said, 'It's going to be a process.” Yes, Iowa needs to replace Brandon Scherff, the Outland Trophy winner and a probably first-round draft pick, and Andrew Donnal, a probable draft pick. It's going to be a process, especially with first-year players.
'We're not looking to replace them, they're draft picks in the NFL,” Boettger said. 'Boone and I are new tackles. We haven't started a single game. We realize that. The staff realizes that. The rest of the guys, they know. We're just trying to get better every day.”
Ferentz said the battles with Ott and Meier will pay dividends.
'They're getting tested each and every day,” Ferentz said. 'They win some, lose some. They're starting to win some. They weren't winning many if any early in the practice. It's a progressional thing. Hopefully in August, they'll be in better shape.”
Other observations from Saturday:
- Koehn looks as if he could indeed win the No. 1 punting job. The walk-on (he said he'll be put on scholarship in the fall) has a booming leg. Yes, he's already the kicker and handles the kickoff duties, so that would have to be negotiated. He said he did go through some tired leg early in camp, but this was his first time through both jobs and he's feeling up to it.
Is Ferentz feeling up to that? He's tried the kicker/punter combo once in his 16 seasons (all-American kicker Nate Kaeding punted a handful of times in 2001).
'Whoever's best at any of those jobs will be the guy in,” Ferentz said. 'We'll keep an open mind.”
- There was some serious rotation within the linebackers. Sophomore outside linebacker Ben Niemann pretty much stuck, but senior Travis Perry played a lot of middle linebacker with sophomore Josey Jewell, who played a lot of weakside linebacker and switched some with sophomore Bo Bower.
'The top four or five guys can play multiple positions inside and outside, it's pretty cool having that,” Jewell said. 'It's great for understanding the defense. We all know what everyone is doing, so that helps us understand the bigger picture.”
- Sophomore guard Sean Welsh, who started seven games last season, has been absent this spring. Ferentz said Welsh is 'taking care of some non-football items” and that he expects him to return to the team.
- Freshman cornerback Jalen Embry is on the roster, but hasn't practiced with the team. 'He's got some academic requirements that he has to fulfill,” Ferentz said. 'When he gets that done, he'll be with us.”
- The news that former Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock landed at Michigan finally became official this week. From the start, Ferentz and Iowa didn't do anything to block that. Ferentz once again issued best wishes for Rudock.
'I'm glad it worked out for him,” Ferentz said. 'In a perfect world, we'll play against each other once (the Big Ten title game). That'd be a win-win situation for both of us.”
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