Brown: Iowa's Blythe back in the center of attention

Rick Brown

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Austin Blythe is living proof that you can go home again. But in his case, we're not talking about a house or a city but a position on the football field.

After playing Iowa's final eight games of the 2014 season at guard out of necessity, the senior from Williamsburg is back at center for his swan song season.

"It feels like home," Blythe said. "Not that I didn't like playing guard. But at center, you're in the middle of it all. You kind of control who goes where and what's happening."

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz says that Blythe was the team's best center "start to finish" last season. But an adjustment had to be made on the fly when right guard Jordan Walsh was injured on the first play from scrimmage against Indiana on Oct. 11. Little-used senior Tommy Gaul was inserted at center, and Blythe shuffled to guard.

"I can't say enough about the job Tommy Gaul did," Ferentz said. "That's one of the great stories we've had here in 16 years, a fifth-year senior. He really did a great job. It helped stabilize us, and you never know how things are going to work until it actually happens. But Austin will be back there, and that's where he'll stay."

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Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz feels that center is Blythe's best position.

"He'd probably tell you that's his best position for whatever reason, and it's a good thing," Brian Ferentz said. "It's a good thing that we have a center with experience, that's starting games, that's played big games, and also happens to be a pretty good player."

Blythe's leadership and experience in the heart of the action will be important as the offensive line develops with two new tackles. Getting everyone on the same page is a work in progress.

"Everybody, including me, has got a lot of work to do and a lot of progress to make before our first game," Blythe said. "That's what the spring is all about, working to improve. The tackles (Boone Myers and Ike Boettger) are doing the best they can, and they're doing a great job."

Blythe's move to guard last season was a change, but not a new adventure. He played 10 games at right guard, with nine starts, as a redshirt freshman. He was moved to center in 2013 to replace James Ferentz, who had started 38 consecutive games at that position.

While Brian Ferentz looks to develop a backup center, Blythe is digging in on familiar turf. He likes playing center, and getting a jump on the opposition.

"Especially with the snap of the ball," Blythe said. "You can kind of cheat and get off the ball a little faster than everybody else does. So that's nice."

Blythe may be an old hand at center, but he'll be snapping the ball to a new quarterback now that C.J. Beathard has replaced Jake Rudock.

"It's still the same schemes, same plays," Blythe said. "I guess the rhythm of the cadences might be the only difference. But C.J. is doing a great job and we're happy with where we're at."

That goes double for Blythe, who is back at center. Home sweet home.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.