Iowa Football

Iowa football recruiting 2018: Offensive Line

The Hawkeyes got one of everything - a potential combo guy, a classic Iowa guard and a 6-8 tackle

Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek watches during an Iowa football practice at Kinnick Stadium on August 5, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek watches during an Iowa football practice at Kinnick Stadium on August 5, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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Editor's note: Fifth in a six-part series evaluating Iowa football's incoming class. (Previously: LinebackersDefensive backsWide receivers, Defensive line)

 

This might not have been the plan or maybe it was. The Hawkeyes went into 2018 offensive line recruiting with no screaming needs and with a pair of freshmen coming out of their first seasons at the tackle spot.

Maybe the plan was to sign one of everything.

In Cody Ince, the Hawkeyes have a 6-5, 260-pounder who probably can play both tackle and guard. If Jeff Jenkins progresses, he’s probably a Sean Welsh starter kit as a guard. Jack Plumb is 6-8. He’s a tackle, maybe exactly what Iowa (and a lot of schools) is looking for, a long-limbed left tackle.

That’s one of everything.

Most programs stick to the bravado that if a prospect looks at the depth chart and decides on a school then they don’t want that guy anyway. That’s a cool, tough guy thing to say, but be realistic. Freshmen OTs Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson probably aren’t going anywhere for the next two and maybe three years. That will affect Iowa’s offensive tackle recruiting whether anyone wants to admit that or not.

Iowa didn’t recruit a center, and maybe it should’ve. Keegan Render is a senior and likely the guy at the position for 2018, with sophomore Cole Banwart probably the backup.

Kirk Ferentz is particular about center, a position that’s key in setting protections and identifying fronts. How particular? Ferentz is entering his 20th season as Iowa’s head coach and he’s had 13 players at the center position in that time. Now yes, center isn’t as interchangeable as a guard or tackle. The position demands high football IQ and a highly specialized skill set.

The list of three-year starting centers during Ferentz’s 20 years includes Austin Blythe, James Ferentz and Rafael Eubanks. Two-year starters include James Daniels, Brian Ferentz (he started eight games at guard in 2004), Mike Elgin (started the 2004 season and five games in 2006), Bruce Nelson and A.J. Blazek.

So, center 2019 will be interesting, kind of new territory and a totally open competition.

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Cody Ince

High school linemen oftentimes have to learn how to be the biggest dude out there.

In an interview with HawkeyeReport.com, Unity High School (Balsam Lake, Wis.) head football coach Cory Nelson said that indeed was the case with Ince.

“When he was young as a freshman and sophomore, he didn’t have that switch,” Nelson told HawkeyeReport.com. “He was almost like a big teddy bear. He has evolved and is a different animal now. He is very long, smart, and does a nice job keeping guys off him. He moves his feet well for a big guy.”

Balsam Lake is a town of about 1,000 people in northwest Wisconsin. It’s kind of close to the Twin Cities and Eau Claire, Wis., but it’s still a small town, so Ince’s recruitment captured a lot of people's attention.

“Once Virginia offered him it got out on social media and just exploded,” Nelson told the Leader-Register of northwestern Wisconsin. “There were times when I would have six or eight schools texting or calling me every day.”

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Engineering major ... Earned first-team all-state honors on offense and honorable mention recognition on defense as a senior.

Noteworthy offer: Minnesota

Depth chart in 2018?: Probably not, and you’re going to get that answer here for all three incoming OLs. Ince is a 6-5 kid with long arms. It is going to take some time to build the body, but there’s nothing wrong with a 6-5, long-limbed starting point. That also should give Ince guard/tackle versatility.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Brett Van Sloten.

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Iowa listed Van Sloten at 6-7, but he measured just over 6-5 at the NFL combine (2014), so we’re in range on height and body type. Van Sloten also was a terrific basketball player at Decorah. When I make these comparisons, one of the things I consider is how many years as a potential starter. Van Sloten started 2012 and 2013 at right tackle for the Hawkeyes. Going into the next stage of his football career, Ince has that potential.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “Credit to (O-line) coach (Tim) Polasek. He’s got ties in Wisconsin. He’s up there in Minneapolis, hitting all of those remote areas and those kids who North Dakota State signs. Cody is one of those guys. He’s off the beaten path in terms of where you’re going to go. It’s not a hot bed.

“He fits who we are. He’s a guy with position flexibility. I think he could play all five spots on the offensive line if he decided to choose one. He’s in a good spot. Good athlete. Good basketball player. Really fits the mold of an Iowa offensive lineman. He’s an athlete first and a lineman second. He’s going to grow and do some really good things.”

My take: Hadn’t considered center from Ince and forgot that Bell mentioned it. I used to go to players’ homes in the late summers, like the week between summer workouts and fall camp. I did this with Bruce Nelson, who I still consider the best center of the Ferentz era. We went to his chiropractor. We were kind of waiting around and Nelson measured and weighed himself. He was 6-5, 285ish. I’m not sure you can be too tall to play center, and so, yeah, I could see that for Ince.

Watching his Iowa signing day highlight video: Ince is mean. He’s constantly looking for the kill shot and on that small prep level of football, he found it a lot. The stuff his prep coach said about feet is true. Ince can slither around on the line of scrimmage, with the highlights showing a few pulls. Ince really gets out of his stance. There’s going to be an obvious adjustment from the level of football he played, but those lessons are learned quickly and often not on ESPN.

Jeff Jenkins

Iowa saw something it really liked with Jeff Jenkins and it didn’t mess around.

Jenkins committed to the Hawkeyes on Jan. 22, 2017, making him the first official commitment for the class. Iowa offered on Jan. 13, so Iowa wanted Jenkins and Jenkins wanted Iowa.

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Of course, Jenkins is close with Samson Evans, an incoming wide receiver for the Hawkeyes. The two helped Prairie Ridge (Ill.) to back-to-back Class 6A titles and a 28-0 record as juniors and seniors. Evans’ brother, Shane, is an offensive lineman at Northern Illinois. They were insiders on the decision with Jenkins.

“We all kind of tried to think where would be a better place for an offensive lineman to play?” Jenkins told the Chicago Tribune. “We couldn’t really think of any.”

I don’t know that they’ll be similar players, but I watched Ross Pierschbacher closely in Alabama’s national title game against Georgia. He’s steady as it goes. He gets in his stance, pounds you, gets up, gets out of the huddle and gets back in this stance. Ready to go. No bobbles. No trash talk. Like a robot. No change in his tempo. If you line up across from that, it will wear you out.

That’s kind of what the Iowa staff saw on film with Jenkins.

“I think the one thing they really liked was just my hustle on every play,” Jenkins told HawkeyeReport.com. “There was one play in the state title game where a kid picked up a fumble and ran it back, but I caught up to him on the sidelines. That was one of the plays they liked the most. They liked seeing that I’m tough and physical and just my athleticism too.”

They probably loved seeing that, actually.

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Named to Champaign NewsGazette all-state team as a senior ... Named to Northwest Herald All-Area team for three straight seasons.

Noteworthy offer: Northern Illinois

Depth chart in 2018?: Probably not. Jenkins told HawkeyeReport.com that he gained 25 pounds since the end of football and now weighs in the high 250s. Jenkins also said that some of the schools interested in him wanted to see his weight go up first. That will be the assignment in year 1.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Sean Welsh

Iowa was the perfect fit for Welsh and that’s why he thrived here. I think we all can agree that Iowa feels like a pretty good fit for Jenkins, given his enthusiasm for being a Hawkeye and the quick recruiting courtship. You always hear Ferentz and staff say they want players who want to be here. Jenkins is definitely that guy. Like Welsh, he’s considered undersized. That’s where building the body comes in.

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Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “Jeff is the pioneer of the class. He was the first guy to commit shortly after we got back from the bowl game. He’s on Samson’s team (Prairie Ridge with fellow Iowa commit Samson Evans). Just a tough guy.

“For an offensive linemen, the thing that I notice about Jeff is his ability to maintain blocks at the second level. That’s something that is important to what we do with the zone scheme. He’s really good in space and when he gets on you, he sticks on you. He’s got really good feet and leverage. Not the biggest guy. He’s not a physically overpowering guy, but he’s really good at leverage and really good at running his feet through blocks. That’s going to bode well. This is a really good fit.”

My take: That thing that Bell said about playing in space and getting to the second level, that’s Iowa’s zone scheme when it’s working. Combo blocks and then up to the linebacker or safety.

Going the highlight tape Iowa put together: Seems to have a really good feel for leverage and when he knows he’s got a guy. Lots of plays where Jenkins looks like he’s playing half a player. He sees his aiming points well during the action and gets on top of you. From there, he knows what to do. Drives his feet through blocks. Good-looking athlete in space, too. Can really get out when it’s time to pull and he keeps it together, doesn’t freak out in space like some linemen do.

Jack Plumb

Jack Plumb is a 6-8 athlete. Of course, he had basketball scholarship offers.

Wisconsin-Green Bay and Wisconsin-Milwaukee threw offers out early during Plumb’s hoops career. And at one point, it was going to be a hoops career. Football was kind of a thing to do for Plumb.

“I was just playing football to have fun with my buddies and as a break from basketball,” Plumb told the Green Bay Press Gazette. “After the season, I put a highlight tape together and we sent it out to some coaches. They loved it. They saw a big body out there. They’re also recruiting me as an offensive lineman because they easily think I could put on some weight and be a good left tackle.”

Plumb was never going to play basketball, not with his family history.

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His maternal grandfather is the late Fritz Shurmur, who served as defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers when they won Super Bowl XXXI. His paternal grandfather is Ted Plumb, who was an assistant coach for the Chicago Bears when they won Super Bowl XX. His mother’s cousin is Pat Shurmur, the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings and former head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

In case you’re wondering, yes, Iowa did wonder early on in the process with Plumb if it could get him out of Wisconsin. Iowa offered May 9, 2017. The Badgers followed eight days later. First mattered a little bit, apparently.

“The history of the tight end to offensive linemen at Iowa really interested me and the way they were involved from the beginning,” Plumb told HawkeyeReport.com.

 

Most interesting thing from hawkeyesports.com bio: Team captain as a senior ... Also a four-year basketball letterman and earned two letters in track.

Noteworthy offer: Wisconsin

Depth chart in 2018?: No. A 6-8 offensive tackle is going to take some time. Plumb is 250ish. It’ll be interesting to see how soon that can be 280ish and then maybe 300ish.

Off-the-top-of-my-head Hawkeye comparison: Robert Gallery

I’m not predicting an Outland Trophy for Plumb. I might not have predicted that for Robert Gallery after his senior year at Iowa. You know, when he actually did win the Outland. I think they’re starting with roughly the same body. Gallery was a high jumper at East Buchanan High School before he was a 320-pound all-American tackle at Iowa. For the record, Plumb was a thrower on the Bay Port High School track team.

Iowa recruiting coordinator Kelvin Bell — “He’s another kid who got a Wisconsin offer. We thought it might be hard to get him past Madison. Again, credit to Polasek, he did a helluva job selling the kid on us. I’m not saying the kid can’t be a tight end, but as he continues to grow — and he will continue to grow — he’s going to be one big offensive lineman. He’s every bit of 6-7. Look at the track record for guys who came in at tight end and moved to the offensive line.”

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My take: There’s some projection here, but maybe not as much as you think. Plumb was a tight end in what looked like a prostyle sort of offense. He had his hand on the ground and got out of a stance. When Iowa landed C.J. Fiedorowicz, who recently retired after four years with the Houston Texans, it had a big 6-7 dude who played wide receiver and safety as a prep. Plumb has mixed it up at least a little. He also caught just five passes last season, so blocking was his job.

From Iowa’s player highlight video: Moves really well along the line of scrimmage. The hoops show up in his body control. The last highlight is Plumb catching a short TD pass. It didn’t look like a “fat guy touchdown,” Plumb is long and lean and an athlete. Maybe in a few years, he’ll have a “big fella touchdown.” Strength will take time. The long arms and quick feet are certainly there.

Maybe Iowa sophomore tackle Alaric Jackson is a good compare as a starting point. Jackson only began playing football his junior year at Renaissance High in Detroit. He started 12 games at left tackle last season as a redshirt freshman. As a prep, Jackson was a big 285-pound body with a basketball resume.

Plumb played all four years at Bay Port and he played hoops. The big difference is Jackson was 285 coming out of high school and will be 320 this fall. Plumb’s job year one will be in the workouts.

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

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