Every year there seems to be an “insurance policy” kind of a player on the offensive line.
Last year, Conor Boffeli was that guy. He didn’t play for seven weeks and then started the last three games. You might’ve been able to refer to junior Andrew Donnal as an “insurance” OL last season. He started the year at backup left tackle and then ended up starting three games at right guard before suffering a torn ACL and missing the rest of the year.
With Boffeli potentially dispatched to a starting spot at left guard, Donnal (6-7, 305) really is the insurance this season.
He’ll go into August camp listed on the depth chart at No. 2 left tackle, behind junior Brandon Scherff. But, of course, you know he has experience at guard and, if push came to shove, he probably could lock in at right tackle.
“He’ll be in the mix at the guard position and the tackle position,” offensive line coach Brian Ferentz said this spring. “But we need to have depth there. We need to have depth inside. We need to have depth outside.”
That’s probably not music to a fourth-year junior’s ears, but Donnal does have August to prove that he is one of Iowa’s five best O-linemen.
Key 2012 factor: Donnal broke through and played. He came to Iowa with a little bit of hype. That tends to happen to recruits who play in the U.S. Army All-American game, which Donnal, of Monclova, Ohio, did in 2009. (There are so many all-star games now it’s hard to keep track much less assign any weight to them as far as predictors of future success.)
Donnal played in three games as a redshirt freshman in 2011. At that point, Scherff and Brett Van Sloten started swimming toward the top of the depth chart at both tackle spots. In ’12, he played some right tackle when Van Sloten had to sit out a couple of plays against Northern Illinois. And then, Austin Blythe suffered a high-ankle sprain against Central Michigan. Donnal jumped in until. He started the two games where Iowa’s O-line really had it going — Minnesota, Michigan State — before he suffered his injury.
There were some rough spots at Michigan State, but that was his second career start against one of the Big Ten’s best defenses.
Offseason factor: Donnal returned quickly from his injury. At both spring scrimmages, he was No. 2 left tackle, with redshirt freshman Cole Croston rounding out the left tackle spot.
The versatility Donnal showed last season should serve him well in the quest for top five.
“It’s really hard for bigger guys to go inside and have success, so I’ve been pleased with that,” Brian Ferentz said, ‘but that’s always the thought, who are our five best players? What are their five best positions? Sometimes, those two things don’t always marry.
“So, how do we put the five best on the field? And that’s why guys like Andrew, he played left tackle on Sunday [in Des Moines this spring], he played left guard in practice, he’s played right guard in practice, he’s played right tackle in practice and he’ll continue to do all four of those things. Just like everybody that was playing the spots they were playing on Sunday, they move around a little bit and play some other spots, too. That’s always the thought. That’s why you do things like that.”
Competition: Donnal isn’t beating out Scherff. The guard competition looks like 1) Boffeli, 2) sophomore Jordan Walsh, 3) maybe sophomore Eric Simmons and 4) maybe Donnal. Nolan MacMillan?
Maybe Iowa needs Donnal to be tackle No. 3 or 4 more than it needs him to be guard two? That sounds mixed up, but after Scherff and Van Sloten, experience at tackle isn’t there. Donnal and senior Nolan MacMillan are the only other Iowa OL with any game experience at tackle.
Why No. 19?: Donnal has a big camp ahead of him. His range goes from possible starting guard to No. 3 tackle. Both positions carry major value.
Outlook: Donnal is starter caliber. The only glitch is his skills matching with what Iowa really needs. Still, it’s hard to envision a top five O-lineman sitting because he’s needed more as a backup at another position. Donnal won the position in performance showdowns last season. Pending any lingering health issues, he should be able to do that again.
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