A CLOSER LOOK AT IOWA’S OFFENSIVE LINE
The Depth Chart
No. 1s – Tackles: Brandon Scherff, jr., 6-5, 315; Brett Van Sloten, sr., 6-7, 300. Guards: Conor Boffeli, sr., 6-5, 295; Andrew Donnal, jr., 6-7, 305. Center: Austin Blythe, so., 6-3, 300. No. 2s – Tackles: Ryan Ward, fr., 6-5, 290; Nolan MacMillan, sr., 6-6, 294. Guards: Jordan Walsh, so., 6-4, 290; Eric Simmons, so., 6-2, 295. Center: Tommy Gaul, jr., 6-3, 277.
The tackles are cinch decisions. Junior left tackle Brandon Scherff is back 100 percent from the broken fibula and dislocated ankle that cost him the final five games in 2012. He has seven career starts, but he has a growing reputation that should put him among the top few Big Ten offensive tackles. Senior Brett Van Sloten has started 12 games last season and will soon, barring injury make it another 12 (or 13, of course). He’s a steady performer; Scherff is a mauler. The big news inside is sophomore Austin Blythe moving in at center. All the reviews have been positive and there appears to be no looking back here. Senior Conor Boffeli sat out of Iowa’s scrimmage last weekend, but he’s in. “He had as good of a spring as anybody and he’s having a good camp,” Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s going to be hard to beat out. He’s really turned the corner and is playing like we all thought he would.” The other guard spot is up in the air and, other than a paper depth chart, it might go into Aug. 31 as a rotation between junior Andrew Donnal, sophomore Jordan Walsh and senior Nolan MacMillan.
The No. 2s
The right guard spot is undecided. If MacMillan doesn’t win it, he’s probably a back-up tackle along with redshirt freshman Ryan Ward. Obviously, if Donnal doesn’t win it, he’s probably the No. 3 tackle, which might be his more natural position. (He is all of 6-7.) OL coach Brian Ferentz will stick with the “best five” idea for the starters. So, the idea of an advanced tackle being plugged inside if he’s a better overall OL is possible. “We’re going to put our five best guys out there no matter what,” Brian Ferentz said. “This guy is one of our five best, but we’re going to keep him [out]. If Ryan is one of our five best, he’ll play in a spot. I don’t know which one it’ll be, but he’ll play in a spot.” Sophomore Eric Simmons has worked himself into an important role. He could play guard if needed. He’s also listed as a center. Redshirt freshmen Cole Croston, Reid Sealby and Mitch Keppy have also carved some time out with the second group.
There are only two incoming freshmen at O-line. It’s early, so it’s hard to tell if Colin Goebel (6-5, 280) or Sean Welsh (6-3, 285) will be positioned by their body type, which is important but not a deciding factor for Iowa in recruiting. “We do recruit bodies to a certain extent, but we don’t get hung up on body type,” Brian Ferentz said. “I think that’s a misconception about the way we think. What we’re really interested in is how guys’ approach their business. How they handle themselves, how they compete.” Welsh might’ve suffered a knee sprain. He wore a knee brace and sat out of last weekend’s scrimmage. A walk-on freshman who might stick? Let’s try Boone Myers. He’s an athletic 6-5, 250 kind of cut out of the Bruce Nelson mold. Nelson was a 6-5, 250-pound walk-on who ended up an all-Big Ten center and a second round NFL draft pick. Walk-on O-linemen do make an occasional splash.
– Marc Morehouse
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