Iowa Football

Iowa 2020 depth chart projections, OL: Welcome back, offensive tackle Alaric Jackson

In his first year as starter, center Tyler Linderbaum developed a physical identity

Iowa offensive lineman Alaric Jackson (77) looks to block during a game against Purdue, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, at Kinn
Iowa offensive lineman Alaric Jackson (77) looks to block during a game against Purdue, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. (Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)
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IOWA CITY — The 2019 season sucked for senior Alaric Jackson. On the second drive of the opener vs. Miami (Ohio), Jackson was on the edge locked up in pass pro versus a defensive end. Center Tyler Linderbaum had his defender on skates. They collided with Jackson’s right knee.

It wasn’t an ACL, but it was a knee sprain. Jackson didn’t return to the lineup until four weeks later at Michigan. He wasn’t ready, but he had to be ready and it showed in his performance. Jackson said after the Holiday Bowl he wasn’t happy with his 2019 and then added, “See you next year.”

Right there and then, Iowa got its most important recruit for 2019. Still, Jackson hated his season — according to Pro Football Focus, Jackson allowed 17 pressures, second most on the Iowa O-line — and it had everything to do with health.

“I never felt good at all,” Jackson said. “Right now, I’m about 70 percent. I didn’t have time to get healthy. I got hurt and I had to play right away. It’s all love, though, it’s my team.”

Jackson was so bothered by injury that he didn’t ask the NFL for a draft evaluation. He knew he was coming back for his senior year. By the way, he’ll become a four-year starter at left tackle. Yes, the NFL has taken its early entries from the Hawkeyes, but this is a good ... OK, not “get” ... “stay” for the Hawkeyes. Maybe the best “stay” they could hope for.

 
 

Next LT in

Jackson’s return buys sophomore Jack Plumb some time. Plumb is 6-7. The longer tackles simply take longer to develop. The arms don’t start out as telephone poles and the legs and butt need more lead (shaddup, we’re talking football bodies). This sets up to be a learning year. Plumb will play, likely the third tackle if Jackson or Mark Kallenberger go down. Or, with the recent addition of Indiana grad transfer Coy Cronk, maybe Plumb is depth for 2020 and in the chute for 2021.

This is maybe the most logical choice, but it’s not set in stone. Competition for any playing time at tackle also will include freshman Nick DeJong (6-6, 275) and Tyler Endres (6-6, 307). HawkeyeReport.com’s Blair Sanderson recently reported that because of recurring back issues former Ridge View High School (Holstein) all-stater Ezra Miller (6-6, 305) will retire from the game. Kirk Ferentz confirmed this last week.

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So, available tackle bodies for 2020 took a hit, but had a gain in Cronk.

Cronk has NFL size at 6-5, 325. He started all 40 games from year one at IU. He was lost for the 2019 season in September against UConn, suffering a severely broken and dislocated ankle. IU had found its new left tackle and Cronk faced some uncertainty on where he’d fit at IU. Iowa lost Tristan Wirfs to the NFL and had a need for an NFL-sized tackle body.

Now, Iowa has legit tackle prospects in Jackson, Cronk and Kallenberger. And it has development happening with Plumb, DeJong (a walk-on who pushed his way into mop-up duty this season) and Endres. Maybe a 6-5 guard slides out.

Iowa can log off from the portal, at least O-line coach Tim Polasek can.

Starting left guard: Justin Britt

This might be ahead of schedule, but as a true freshman last season, it felt like Britt (Indianapolis, Ind., 6-5, 290) was going to burn the redshirt.

Iowa lost some players at guard early last season, with Cole Banwart going away for the season with a torn ACL and Kyler Schott missing five games with a foot injury. It really looked like Britt was going in. At one point, Ferentz said it was happening, which, given the fact that Britt missed his senior prep season because of a torn ACL, got my attention.

Britt ended up with a concussion and missed some practice time. He played in four games and kept the redshirt.

When Ferentz says this about a player, a true freshman offensive lineman to boot, it’s noteworthy.

“I’m impressed with his depth of knowledge and understanding of technique,” Ferentz said. “He was saying some things that I don’t think some of our third-year guys could spit at me. That was impressive, and he clearly has been well-coached and thinks about it a little bit, which anything you do you’ve got to think about and give it thought.”

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Next LG in

Senior Cole Banwart should be Britt’s No. 1 competitor for this spot. Banwart was tracking as a second-year starter until he suffered the ACL injury. The 6-4, 300-pounder could win this spot. Let’s see how his knee responds this spring. Here’s one factor that plays sometimes with the Iowa staff: If it’s a coin flip, the Iowa staff, or most staffs, will default to the younger player because there’s more mileage. That could play out here.

But now with Cronk, maybe Kallenberger plays inside. In fact, that’s probably a good possibility. Kallenberger started five games at guard in 2019.

Starting center: Tyler Linderbaum

Linderbaum started 2019 as the center because Ferentz said so. Linderbaum was content as a defensive tackle. Ferentz had another plan, and you saw that in 2019.

Not only did Linderbaum perform — he was named honorable mention all-Big Ten on the coaches and media ballots — he carved an identity. How many times did a Linderbaum GIF along the lines of professional wrestling hit social media on the Sunday after games? A half dozen?

And then the QB sneaks thing. Going into the Holiday Bowl, Stanley ran 23 sneaks for 82 yards. In the Holiday Bowl, Linderbaum spearheaded a QB sneak from USC’s 11-yard line. It went 8 yards to the 3.

“I guess there’s not much to it, just get your pad level down, just get off the ball fast and just have Nate run behind you, I guess,” Linderbaum said. “Just get lower than your guy and never give up, keep pushing until you see the first down.”

There was one against Minnesota. Linderbaum reminded the Gophers’ defensive tackle not to skip leg day afterward.

Stanley started kind of chuckling talking about this one.

“He took that guy back pretty good,” Stanley said.

So, Linderbaum established a presence. Can’t say too many redshirt freshmen hit that kind of note through their play. And make no mistake, Linderbaum is a relentless competitor. In Solon, they sing folk songs about the time Linderbaum pinned Wirfs in prep wrestling. The Wirfs, of course, counter, “It was just that one damn time!!!”

In 409 pass protection snaps going into the bowl game, Linderbaum had allowed just eight pressures, just one more than Wirfs. Pro Football Focus also had Linderbaum ranked as Iowa’s best run blocker in 2019.

Next C in

Think about this, it’s kind of important. Let me put it this way, your head coach thinks about who the No. 3 center is. Sophomore Jeff Jenkins has been the No. 2 center. Linderbaum played 800 snaps, so this was a whole 15 snaps for Jenkins in 2019. There might be more in 2020, but no one wants Linderbaum out of the lineup. This is a team job, a measure of sacrifice because Linderbaum isn’t going anywhere.

Jenkins is an important player. The No. 3 guy? Did Ferentz mention Kyler Schott? Probably Schott.

Starting right guard: Kyler Schott

No, Schott did not make the 2019 projected two deep list. Maybe his family might’ve, but probably not. At this point last year, Schott was a walk-on with zero profile. He was the one during O-line drills who was a head shorter than the tackles but 3 inches wider (in a good way, he’s not a fatty) than most of the other guards.

Ferentz Iowa has almost a “dare” mentality when it comes to finding and developing walk-ons like Schott. Ferentz and by extension the entire Iowa staff love to laugh about lack of height. Sometimes, they have the last laugh. Schott had them smiling in 2019.

He’s not tall. Let’s go with 6-2 in cleats.

“We always call him Jack Black because when he first got here, his beard was trimmed, he had shorter hair and he looked just like Jack Black,” Wirfs said. “I think that’s his personality. He’s a real funny guy, down to earth, can talk to anybody. I love him.”

“They moved one of the Paulsens out and they put ‘Shooter’ in there,” defensive end A.J. Epenesa said. “Shooter? He’s about 6-foot, 6-1 and maybe 6-2 on a good day. Long hair. Looks good. A big burly beard. One of my best friends on the team.

“Typical Iowa guy, a walk-on who works hard. Strong, really strong. Put him on an incline bench and see what he can put up.”

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Schott first entered the lineup in the opener, when Jackson suffered the knee injury. Levi Paulsen played the tackle spot and Schott came in at right guard.

Schott played three games before he suffered a foot injury in practice that cost him six games. This might just be coincidence, but in five of the six games Schott played, the Hawkeyes broke 100 yards rushing, which wasn’t an automatic in 2019 (nor in 2018). According to PFF, Schott was Iowa’s No. 3 run blocker and allowed seven pressures in 208 pass pro snaps.

When Ferentz discusses Schott, it feels permanent now. The “Rudy” portion of the story is over.

Next RG in

Sophomore Cody Ince did some stuff in 2019. Iowa rotated a bunch of bodies inside early in the season. Ince ended up playing 124 snaps in 2019, allowing three pressures in 59 pass pro snaps. Ince’s athleticism stood out. Iowa called the pin-and-pull plays when Ince was in the game, presumably playing to his quickness. At 6-4, 287, Ince also might have the length to get a look at tackle. Iowa might need him to get a look at tackle.

Starting right tackle: Mark Kallenberger OR Coy Cronk

In August, Polasek did the math and thought, yeah, maybe there is a good possibility the Hawkeyes could lose their two starting offensive tackles to the 2020 NFL Draft.

It turned out to be just the one, but still, credit Polasek and the Iowa staff for not holding on to hope too long and enacting a plan to try to be ready in case Wirfs and Jackson split.

Kallenberger certainly was part of that plan. The 6-5, 291-pounder played 17 snaps in the opener and saw action in the first four games, with his snaps rising to 45 for Middle Tennessee State. The only game Kallenberger didn’t play in was Michigan. After the Hawkeyes allowed 10 sacks, Kallenberger was a starter the next week against Penn State.

Kallenberger started the next four games and then went back to rotational when Schott went back into the lineup. Kallenberger’s snap counts dwindled to 12, 15, 19 and 18. But then in the Holiday Bowl, it was 2020 for Kallenberger. He played all 64 snaps at left guard alongside Jackson and was great in pass pro with some work needed on run blocking. It’s going to be a busy winter conditioning season for Kallenberger. At 291, some size and strength still need to show up. Kallenberger saw around 270 pass pro snaps and didn’t allow a sack with eight pressures given up.

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The best thing about Kallenberger right now is mentality. He’s a nasty finisher. With a winter to build a little bigger punch and with a solid year of 378 snaps under his belt, Kallenberger the finisher probably comes through more in 2020.

Here’s Ferentz after Kallenberger’s first start vs. Penn State: “I saw a lot of positives. That’s encouraging. A month ago I’m not going to say he was in a slump, but the month of August was OK with him. He didn’t seem like he was really moving forward and progressing. The last four weeks I think we’ve seen good progress. I think he deserved the right to get in there and play and did a good job.”

And now here’s Cronk.

He’s got premium size at 325 pounds. Is he a guard or tackle in the NFL? Cronk will compete to play tackle for Iowa. It’s an enormously safe bet that the Iowa staff emphasized the “compete” part of that sentence. He’s not going to be handed anything. I think we can all agree in Ferentz’s 22nd year that players do have equity within the Iowa program and, yes, whether you want it to or not, it does matter.

When kind of player Cronk is and how his skills fit with the Hawkeyes remains to be seen. Here’s some insight on the dude Iowa is getting.

After starting 13 games at left tackle as a true freshman: “It just takes the excuses off my back. I can’t say, ‘Well, this is my first time doing this, this is my first time doing that,’ so that rubs away any excuses I have. It’s on me, I can’t blame it on nobody else. It’s my time to do it.”

Cronk is a film devotee and “good enough” doesn’t seem to be a thing for him.

Cronk said he studies film “religiously,” something that shaped his approach to his freshman season.

“Last year I made some great plays and some cringeworthy plays,” he said after his freshman year. “I never thought about losing my job, I just knew if I wanted to help this offensive line and this team grow, I needed to work on my thing, I needed to work on my footwork. I put a lot of time into it because, first of all it means something to me. I take a lot of pride in my work. I just tried to get better every day and put the time into it.”

Next RT in

DeJong (6-6, 275) and Endres (6-6, 307) will fight with swords. Miller’s retirement punched a hole in competition for 2020. It sent the Hawkeyes to the portal for Cronk.

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Now, Endres and DeJong will be redshirt freshmen with likely another year of building and learning ahead.

Kirk Ferentz starting offensive lines

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