Mix of concern, optimism with Iowa's 2015 offensive line
The offensive line has provided the foundation of Kirk Ferentz's 115 victories in 16 years as Iowa's head football coach.
Therein lies a combination of comfort and concern with what's to come in the uncertain fall 2015 version.
The comfort: Ferentz's developmental system has steadily produced high-end, NFL-ready linemen. That'll be evident again April 30 when Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff is selected in the NFL Draft's first round. Another outgoing tackle, Andrew Donnal, will probably be drafted, too.
The concern: Iowa's front five is under heavy construction. The focal points are the new sophomore tackles, Boone Myers and Ike Boettger. But there's more uncertainty up front with starting left guard Sean Welsh out of spring camp for "non-football" reasons, according to Ferentz. Right guard Jordan Walsh was in and out of the lineup last year.
Austin Blythe — switching back to his original center position from guard — is Iowa's only stable returning piece, having started 31 consecutive games.
"I think it was better today, but we're still growing," Ferentz said following Saturday's open-to-the-public practice at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines — the team's ninth workout of the 15 allowed this spring. "It's been a process. We're probably going to need every day between now and the start of the season."
The process begun two years ago for Boettger, a high school tight end from Cedar Falls. A high-calorie diet and strength work with assistant coach Chris Doyle helped him pack on 70 pounds. Now he's a first-team right tackle listed at 6-foot-6, 300.
Myers, No. 1 at left tackle and tasked with replacing Scherff, is 6-5, 300.
"We're trying to carry on the Iowa way," Boettger said. "That's what we talk about all the time."
Boettger understands this group needs to grow in more ways than size. Asked what areas the offensive line needed to improve, he replied, "Everything."
Iowa's first- and second-team offenses failed to score a touchdown in more than an hour of scrimmage action at Valley.
"We had some good plays, some bad plays," Boettger said. "That's how it's going to go in spring. It's early. We just need to get more chemistry and get to clicking as an offense a little better."
LeShun Daniels Jr., who is the co-starter at running back, has confidence that this group will come together in time.
"They're going to do a real good job for us, I know they will," Daniels said. "We have faith in them as teammates. We believe in those young guys."
The clock is ticking until the Sept. 5 opener against Illinois State. Ferentz's son and offensive line coach Brian Ferentz will meet the media Wednesday, and he'll be asked about prospective depth — three true freshmen join already-on-campus rookies James Daniels and Brett Waechter this summer.
But for 2015, the front five's success will likely be measured by how fast Myers and Boettger can progress.
"You just keep watching them. I was really concerned about that position in August, a year ago," Kirk Ferentz said. "Not as concerned when we got through December. I thought Boone and Ike made a lot of progress."