Iowa Football

4 Downs with Iowa's offensive line: Guard position doesn't feel totally settled

Offensive line coach Tim Polasek sees what could happen at tackle (NFL), so he does have eyes on the next gen at OT

Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs (74) discusses his efforts to grow a gear fellow offensive linemen Landan Paulsen (68) and his brother Levi Paulsen (66) during the 2019 University of Iowa Football Media Day in Iowa City on Friday, August 9, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs (74) discusses his efforts to grow a gear fellow offensive linemen Landan Paulsen (68) and his brother Levi Paulsen (66) during the 2019 University of Iowa Football Media Day in Iowa City on Friday, August 9, 2019. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

A closer look at Iowa’s offensive line entering the 2019 season.

The center: Tyler Linderbaum (6-3, 286, #fr.), Jeff Jenkins (6-3, 266, #fr.), Justin Britt (6-5, 290, fr.)

The guards: Cole Banwart (6-4, 300, jr.), Landan Paulsen (6-5, 305, sr.), Levi Paulsen (6-5, 305, sr.), Cody Ince (6-4, 287, #fr.)

The tackles: Alaric Jackson (6-6, 320 jr.), Tristan Wirfs (6-5, 322, jr.), Mark Kallenberger (6-5, 291, so.), Jack Plumb (6-7 272, #fr.)

First Down

Next week is decision time at guard. Unlike tackle, it’s been more of an experiment there.

In just about every iteration, a Paulsen has been installed as one of the starters. Right now, it’s Landan Paulsen. His twin, Levi, is the one with a few spot starts in his career. Landan, a fifth year, has gained momentum since December and has held on through camp.

Junior Cole Banwart also has been a starter in just about every depth chart iteration. Is it as easy as Banwart and one of the Paulsens? Maybe, maybe not.

“We knew we were going to play more than five guys in the season and I think that’s where we’re at right now,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said. “We’re not ready to make those final determinations on who those seven, eight or maybe nine guys, I don’t know, are, but certainly we feel good about some of the depth that’s developed there through competition.”

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Sophomore Mark Kallenberger and redshirt freshman Cody Ince have made their presences felt at guard in camp.

“There’s not a lot of clear separation there, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either,” Ferentz said.

Second Down

Offensive line coach Tim Polasek is only about straight talk. His players probably know exactly where they stand with him at all times. Sometimes, maybe that standing isn’t quite what either side wants.

He was asked a question about Banwart, who started seven games at right guard last season while battling through injuries.

“Cole’s like a 30-year vet. I mean, that’s kind of the way it seems, but he’s only a junior,” Polasek said. “I wish Cole were here because I would say it, we’re just looking for some improvement. He knows his assignment. He knows how to get the job done. He gets the job done most of the time, but there are just little areas where he can improve.”

Third Down

Here’s a little more on Tyler Linderbaum’s unprecedented rise from backup defensive tackle to No. 1 center and Kirk Ferentz’s healthy preoccupation with centers. This time from Polasek.

“Every program in the country at every level has its own identity,” Polasek said. “I think the center position, I think offensive line and defensive line, we value every spot. But identity-wise, it’s easy to relate Iowa football with offensive linemen and center guys.

“They have to be quick with the inside and outside zone. James Daniels and James Ferentz did it. I think it’s one of those easy associations with Iowa football and I don’t think it’s anything more than that.”

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Fourth Down

Let’s not kid ourselves. There’s a very real possibility Iowa finds itself looking for a pair of offensive tackles in 2020. Tristan Wirfs is already No. 7 on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper’s Top 10 list. Jackson is the one with the better all-conference credential.

Wirfs and Jackson will be three-year starters after this season. They have 44 career starts. Iowa runs an open campus for NFL scouts. They know about these two.

And, yes, Polasek is on it.

“It is a real question, it is a real possibility,” he said. “I think both of those kids are in a good mental state, as far as ‘I need to play well.’ So, I don’t really think about that as much as I try to coach every kid as if his time is going to be now.

“I’m not saying that I’m better than anyone else, but that’s in my heart and soul. That’s part of my philosophy. So, how I’m handling that is we’ll get a guy in during a series at an unexpected time.”

If this goes the way it has gone the last few years with Iowa football, Kallenberger, Jack Plumb and redshirt freshman Ezra Miller are on the clock.

“If they’re in my room and they’re a tackle, they’re being coached like their time is tomorrow,” Polasek said. “So, that’s how we’re combating that.”

From a recruiting standpoint? “There’s not a whole lot you can do to patch that up,” Polasek said. “We hope to be in better position with that question come December and then in the spring. We’ll see what the whole thing brings. There are a lot of ways for us to be better at that spot and we’ll keep hitting the challenge head on.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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