Bobby La Gesse/Land of 10
Tackle Ike Boettger (left) is out for the season, and guard Sean Welsh has juggled positions because of injuries to Iowa's offensive line.

Iowa’s injury-riddled offensive line vies for consistency, cohesion

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Offensive line play represents the backbone of Iowa football, and for the first six weeks of the season, a few disks remain out of place for the Hawkeyes.

What the line needed — and received — was a week off and a figurative trip to the chiropractor. Will an adjustment help? Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz sure hopes so.

In six games, Iowa has used four different lineups. The offensive line, which returned all but eight starters from the 2016 unit that won the Joe Moore Award, has dealt with injury after injury. Original starting left tackle Boone Myers suffered a nasty high ankle sprain in training camp that still hasn’t healed correctly. Tackle Ike Boettger tore an Achilles tendon in the second game. Center James Daniels was injured in the last week of camp and missed the opener.

Iowa’s starting offensive line

 Opponent LT LG C RG RT
Wyoming Alaric Jackson Ross Reynolds Keegan Render Sean Welsh Ike Boettger
Iowa State Jackson Render James Daniels Welsh Boettger
North Texas Jackson Boone Myers Daniels Render Welsh
Penn State Jackson Myers Daniels Render Welsh
Michigan State Jackson Myers Daniels Render Welsh
Illinois Jackson Render Daniels Welsh Tristan Wirfs

It’s been frustrating for all involved, from the coaches to the players. Redshirt freshman Alaric Jackson has started every game at left tackle. Tristan Wirfs started at right tackle against Illinois, the first true freshman to open a game in Kirk Ferentz’s 19 years as coach. Keegan Render, a junior, has started once at center, twice at left guard and three times at right guard. Sean Welsh, an All-American-caliber guard, replaced Boettger for three games before kicking back inside last week.

Myers has played almost every position except center, with three starts at left guard. But he was withheld last Saturday to let his ankle heal as much as possible. The lineup of Jackson at left tackle, Render at left guard, Daniels at center, Welsh at right guard and Wirfs at right tackle seems to be where the team leans right now until Myers is completely healthy.

“I hope this is our line moving forward,” Brian Ferentz said. “I’m not naive enough to believe that it definitely is going to be. We’d like to get Boone back in the lineup. Boone has struggled with injuries.

“He’s another guy, whether it’s Boone or Ike, I think this has to be mentioned, too. This isn’t always appreciated from the outside. Nobody has had a harder job than Boone Myers this year because he hasn’t been 100 percent, and he’s gone from being the alpha to not being able to do some of the things he’s used to being able to do, physically can’t do it — I told him this the other day. Unfortunately, we live in a world, and the kids are in this world, too, where they’re going to judge themselves based on how they’re performing on the field. And that’s probably because that’s how we’ve told them it’s going to be judged for a long time.”

While frustrated, Myers has tried to keep a positive and versatile approach to his play and that of the unit.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that are like that,” Myers said. “Sean has been bumped around all over the place. We’ve got a lot of guys — Keegan, Ross — they’ve been bounced around, left to right. That’s part of the game, part of being an offensive lineman here at Iowa. You’ve got know all five positions basically because you never know when your number is going to be called, when someone is going to go down.”

Wirfs has perhaps the most upside of any of the players. He’s 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds and already has the build of a capable lineman. Wirfs’ improvement and Myers’ health will be the primary factors in whether the unit makes strides the rest of this season.

Iowa averages 3.67 yards per carry, which ranks 12th in the Big Ten and 100th nationally. Unless that number improves quickly — which is based the line’s execution — the rest of the season will get tough for the Hawkeyes.

“I hope we can keep this group intact,” Brian Ferentz said. “If we can, then I think we have a chance to build a little bit of cohesiveness and chemistry. But more than anything, I think the onus falls on myself and the coaching staff. We need to find a way to put guys into positions that they can be successful in … because if we don’t get to running the ball, if we don’t get to being a little bit more efficient on first and second down, I don’t think we reasonably expect to be successful as an offensive unit. And if we’re not, then boy, we’re putting a lot pressure on the defense and special teams. So we need to get back to controlling the football.”