Iowa football: Hawkeyes paced by strong offensive line once again
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa's depth chart, printed in the media guide given out at Saturday's media day, might as well not even exist for the offensive line.
Right now, it looks this way — Cole Croston at left tackle, Boone Myers at left guard, Sean Welsh at center, James Daniels at right guard and Ike Boettger at right tackle.
But if one of those guys gets injured, all of the sudden offensive line coach Brian Ferentz starts becoming a puzzle maker.
It's not as simple as the other positions on the depth chart, Ferentz said. In his mind, there are five guys for five spots, and if one gets injured, it's No. 6 going in, and let the shuffling commence.
"You're never going to have 10 guys," Ferentz said. "You just can't have a two-deep and say, 'If the right guard goes down, you're the second-team right guard, you go in.' It's not like playing quarterback. 'You're the second quarterback. Go in.'
"'You're the sixth lineman, go in.' Now we have to make this right. We have to find the best spot."
The pieces seem to fit.
- Welsh has started 23 games in two seasons, playing guard and tackle before moving to center this spring.
- Daniels was in line to be the center before injuries kept him out of spring practice, after playing guard and tackle last season.
- Myers was a starting tackle last season, but had injury issues last season..
- Croston played left and right tackle.
- Boettger can play both tackle spots, and move inside if need be.
"I think that's very big, especially if a guy goes down or something," Boettger said. "A guy coming in can play both positions — I think we saw that last year some. Guys like me and Boone went down, and other guys stepped in and played those positions."
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"I think it's extremely important," Croston said of the depth. "We have guys go down all of the time. You can't predict injuries. If a right tackle goes down, it's nice to have a guy at guard switch out to tackle. A guy at center go to guard. It's very fluid.
"It's nice to have. Yeah, very nice."
That's why, Ferentz said, he tries players at different position. Keegan Render would be No. 6 on the depth chart, Ferentz said, but his best fit would be at guard.
"We need versatility up front," Ferentz said. "And we need guys to be able to cross-train, do different things."
"You just never know how it's going to go," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We have some good experience right now in our group, and then secondly, we've got versatility. We have guys that can move around. Cole can go left or right, for instance. Ike has played inside as well as tackle, Boone Myers obviously did that same thing, while Sean Welsh has played guard, center, tackle.
"So when you have flexibility like that, that really helps you because typically during the course of the season, at least last year was a great illustration, we had a lot of moving parts whole football team injury-wise. If your better players can be versatile then it gives you a chance to put younger players in and just kind of keep them in one spot, which I think that helps a lot sometimes."
It helps that there is good chemistry along the line.
"We've been together for a few years now," Croston said. "We've been together for a while, and we've had younger guys step up."
ESPN analyst Ed Cunningham ranked Iowa's offensive line as the best in the nation, and when asked about that, Brian Ferentz chuckled.
"I know who Ed Cunningham is. But he didn't come to spring practice. And he hasn't been around yet this fall," he said, smiling. "I'm flattered, and I hope all of our players are flattered. I take it as a great compliment to what the 2015 line did. I say it has no bearing on what the 2016 line does."
Brian Ferentz knows he may have to put another puzzle together.
"We're going to start the season with the five best ones we have, and the five best spots we can get them in," he said. "But the minute that changes, you might see five different spots, because that sixth guy might be different than that fifth guy was, and all of the sudden you're shuffling. And that's the hard part.
"So when you have guys who can play multiple positions, it makes that easier to do."
This article was written by John Bohnenkamp from The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.