IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa’s offensive line will blend youth and experience this fall, and in some cases, they’re inseparable.
The Hawkeyes opened all 13 games with a freshman at left tackle and a freshman started at right tackle seven times. Alaric Jackson (6-foot-7, 320 pounds) and Tristan Wirfs (6-5, 315) experienced the typical roller-coaster ride in their first season as competitors last season. But they also showed enough promise to make them stalwarts in a season or two.
Iowa also returns three interior players with starting experience, particularly Keegan Render (6-4, 310) with 21 career starts. But the Hawkeyes also face a major hole with center James Daniels opting for the NFL as an early entrant. Daniels (6-4, 295) started 25 games the last two seasons and his physical gifts belie his age (20). Replacing Daniels is the most pressing issue on Iowa’s offensive line this offseason.
“I’ll say this about James: Just I don’t know if I’ve ever coached a more talented center prospect,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That includes my time in the NFL. He’s got some skills that are just really unusual. And he’s a really intelligent guy. And one interesting thing about him, you get the feedback from the NFL folks. That’s strictly off film. They haven’t had a chance to investigate the kind of person he is and his intelligence.
“All those things, kind of the personality he’s got. So I think both in his case and [cornerback] Josh [Jackson’s] case, those things are just going to elevate their status.
“So, I mean, it was a realistic possibility that he may make this decision. And so obviously we’ve got Keegan Render is our next man in at that position. Cole [Banwart] worked there. Spencer [Williams]. So, we’ve got a couple of guys rotating.”
Render started one game at center for Daniels in 2017 before opening three at right guard and then nine at left guard. Entering winter workouts, he’s the probable starter but there’s time for others to slide into that role and keep Render at guard.
Projecting as starters at guard entering offseason workouts are incoming senior Ross Reynolds (6-4, 300) and junior Levi Paulsen (6-5, 305). Reynolds started one game at guard this year and alternated with Render at left guard for most of the season. Paulsen started the Pinstripe Bowl at right tackle and opened one game in 2016.
Projected 2018 offensive line depth chart
(year reflects 2018 season status)
|First team||Second team|
|LT||Alaric Jackson, so., 6-7, 320||Mark Kallenberger, fr., 6-6, 260|
|LG||Ross Reynolds, sr., 6-4, 300||Landan Paulsen, jr., 6-5, 305|
|C||Keegan Render, sr., 6-4, 310||Cole Banwart, so., 6-4, 295|
|RG||Levi Paulsen, jr., 6-5, 305||Lucas LeGrand, sr., 6-5, 295|
|RT||Tristan Wirfs, so., 6-5, 315||Dalton Ferguson, sr., 6-4, 312|
One player who could shake up that potential lineup is freshman Mark Kallenberger (6-6, 260), who redshirted last year. Kallenberger worked as the second-team left tackle during Pinstripe Bowl warmups and he figures into the competition at multiple positions.
“He worked a lot with the twos this year,” Ferentz said. “He’s on scout team as well. We had him go back and forth. But he wasn’t standing around watching. He was doing things.
“Physically, he’s probably not there yet for obvious reasons; he just got out of high school. But he’s got the traits we’re looking for, too. He’s a really competitive guy, tough-minded and doesn’t back down from anything. So he’s got a lot of work to do. But, yeah, we really like him.”
As for left tackle, Jackson started all season until the Pinstripe Bowl when he was withheld for violating team rules. Wirfs moved to left tackle that game, which led to questions about who will start at left tackle next year. Ferentz said the position is not “sacred” and “fundamentally they’re both the same” when comparing left and right tackle.
“I think Tristan and A.J. both are capable of playing out there,” Ferentz said. “That’s a good thing. I think Kallenberger down the road will be, too. We’ve got three guys in-house that can probably play that position, and I’m not so sure Levi can’t play tackle on the right side.”
As for Jackson, who was named to the freshman All-American team, he was in the weight room working out Wednesday.
“We’ve got a few things that he’ll have to check off the list here as we go along but hopefully it’s straight ahead,” Ferentz said.