What makes a good center? Let Kirk Ferentz explain.
“It’s an interesting position, at least the way we do things,” the Iowa football coach said. “We prefer to get a center that can think a little bit, communicate, hopefully has a little bit of leadership qualities. Those are good things, certainly, because he is kind of the hub of what goes on up front. He’s got to have a connection with the quarterback and understand his language a little bit, and they have got to be thinking the same way. That’s kind of where it all starts.”
When it comes to Tyler Linderbaum, it’s ‘got it,’ ‘got it,’ and ‘got it’ on those first three things on Ferentz’s list. Linderbaum and Spencer Petras live in the same house together, so check off the connection-with-the-quarterback part, too.
“I think it started out our freshman year in the dorms,” Petras said. “I roomed with (wide receiver) Nico Ragaini, and he came into our room and went on Call Of Duty and had, like a 50-kill game with only one death. It was crazy good. At that point, we were like ‘Whoa, this guy’s pretty good.’ I don’t know. We both see the world pretty similarly. We both love football, both on the same page there. He’s just a great guy to be around.”
And a great guy to have anchoring your offensive line.
There’s a reason Iowa has been able to run the football so well most of this season. It’s the talent of the running backs, for sure, but the boys up front have been doing work, too.
Linderbaum has smarts, quickness, toughness, strength, is simply playing at a very high level as just a sophomore.
“He’s a great player, has made a great impact,” said Iowa senior tackle Alaric Jackson. “He’s an All-American to me, honestly.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz singled out Linderbaum and Jackson last week in a Zoom interview with media. They are the leaders up front, two NFL guys some day, perhaps soon.
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“On the offensive line, everything is going to start at the center position. That guy is going to be your tone setter, going to be your tempo setter, and he’s going to be your bell cow,” Brian Ferentz said. “Talking about getting guys in and out of the huddle, nobody can get to the ball faster than the center. He sets that tempo right from the start, and when you’re talking about Tyler, yes, (being) athletic, strong, has all those measurables that you’re looking for.
"But the level he’s competing at, his desire to compete and to line up and beat the person across from him, it’s as high as I’ve been around. He’s a pleasure to coach, he’s a pleasure to be around ... Guys like him are few and far between.”
This is where it needs to be pointed out Linderbaum switched from defensive line to center during Iowa’s prep for the 2019 Outback Bowl. Linderbaum played both positions at Solon High School, began as a D-tackle as a true freshman for the Hawkeyes in 2018, played a couple of games there that season but red-shirted.
It was ultimately decided by Kirk Ferentz that the best thing for Iowa would be for Linderbaum to move to the offense. He started all 13 of the Hawkeyes’ games at center last season and has continued to improve, improve and improve some more in 2020, despite the disjointed COVID-19 offseason.
“I just feel like his upside is so great because of his inexperience and age,” said Kevin Miller, Linderbaum’s coach at Solon. Miller pointed out Linderbaum is just 20 years old despite being in the Iowa program for three years.
“He’s playing against guys who are 22, 23,” Miller said. “On the line of scrimmage, those guys are true men. I think his best football is ahead of him. I honestly think he’s just scratching the surface. Did I see this coming? Perhaps. He checks all the boxes. I just don’t see a weakness in his game. I really don’t.”
“When I first moved to center, I guess it was bowl prep, during the winter (of 2018), I spent a lot of time with Spencer just learning how to snap and just getting comfortable with it,” Linderbaum said. “(Last year) was my first college season. I didn’t really know what to expect. As the games went on, I got more confidence. You see a lot more things as the games go on facing stiffer competition, especially in the Big Ten. It was just like a confidence thing for me. I’d never had to play in stadiums where there were 100,000 fans. So kind of getting that under my belt has been very beneficial, for sure.”
Linderbaum also was good in baseball, wrestling and track and field at Solon. His dad, Todd, played football there with Miller back in the day.
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Tyler once pinned Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie tackle and former Hawkeye Tristan Wirfs on the mat, though he’s quick to point out Wirfs beat him the first seven times they wrestled. That’s the big thing about him, Miller said.
The kid is as humble as they come, as competitive as they come. Combine that with ability to do the things he is able to do as a center, as a blocker, and you’ve got something.
Things like get outside to make blocks in Iowa’s zone running scheme, make multiple blocks on a play, get to the second level to block linebackers and pass protect. Miller said he hasn’t seen Petras face pressure up the middle (in the ‘A’ gaps) this season, only on the edges.
“I really thought center is where he would have started (at Iowa),” Miller said. “I really do. I think he is a natural born center. He is your prototype center. You want a center to be smart, tough, athletic, quick. He is just so quick off the football, so athletic. At center, you don’t have to be 6-foot-4 or 6-5. You can get away with being 6-2, in Tyler’s case he’s 6-3. To me, the thing that just stands out about Tyler is his athleticism. He is so stinking athletic. For us, he could have been a fullback or a tight end. He played quarterback in junior high.”
Linderbaum recently switched his major to elementary education, saying he wants to be a teacher and coach someday. But pro ball awaits.
Linderbaum was asked this week how much he has thought about the NFL, and if he’ll have a decision to make after this season, as far as considering entering the draft. He brushed off that talk rapidly.
“My focus is on this season,” he said. “To me, I still have a lot of improvement I need to make, and I’m just focused on that: what I need to get better at. I see a lot of things that I can get better at. There’s a lot in the run game and the pass game. Just like anything else, I think I can improve a lot in the pass game, with my feet and hands. Just being better overall.”
“(The center) has got a tough job because he’s got to get the ball to the quarterback ... then also block. I’ve always thought he had the toughest job out there on the field, and there are certain blocks in our offense that aren’t easy to execute,” Kirk Ferentz said. “So if you get a guy that has got that ability, it’s a really good thing. At the end of the day, centers are the MVPs. Quarterbacks think they are big shots, but if they don’t get the ball, they are going nowhere.”
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