'Healthy competition' at tackle benefits Myers, Croston, Boettger

Chad Leistikow
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard (16) is protected by left guard Sean Welsh (79) and Cole Croston (64) against Illinois on Oct. 10. Iowa moved James Daniels to right tackle on an emergency basis that game when Ike Boettger got hurt.

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Whatever was the previous record for stationary-bike pedaling during a Big Ten Conference championship football game, Iowa's Ike Boettger smashed it on Dec. 5.

"Seriously, he was riding that thing non-stop," said Cole Croston, Boettger's replacement at right tackle during the Hawkeyes' 16-13 loss to Michigan State in Indianapolis. "Every time we would go out there, he was riding that thing just in case."

Unfortunately for Boettger, that bike situated a few yards behind the Lucas Oil Stadium sideline was as close as he has been to playing in more than two months since he suffered a high-ankle sprain Oct. 10 against Illinois. And, with barely more than a week until the Jan. 1 Rose Bowl against Stanford, Boettger remains, in his words, an "emergency" option.

"I know I could go out there and play if I needed to," the Chris Doyle petri-dish project from Cedar Falls said, "but definitely not to the best of my ability."

Kirk Ferentz has needled the media for its over-the-top preseason angst over the attention new sophomore starting tackles Boettger (right) and Boone Myers (left) received. But as it turned out, backup Croston saw more time than anyone, and the line overall performed better than last year's did with Outland Trophy-winning left tackle Brandon Scherff.

Croston started all nine Big Ten games, including the championship, and played every down in seven of them.

"Ike's had some injuries, I've had some injuries. Cole's been really the only lucky one that hasn't got hurt yet," said Myers, who missed most of four games with a stinger injury that bothered his shoulder. "It's all healthy competition, we're all making each other better. It could happen to any of us. Any one of us could go down and lose our spot.

"I think it shows a little more about our line, our character we have, the love we have for each other. If someone goes down, next man in. There's no hate between us. We want to win games. We know the healthiest five are going to get that done for us."

That last part is the key when looking ahead to 2016. Under Kirk Ferentz in 17 years, the five "healthiest" offensive linemen in his camp are typically on the field.

That position flexibility was particularly evident Oct. 17 when Iowa's juggled offensive line – playing without Myers or Boettger – delivered a 40-10 knockout of Northwestern behind five rushing touchdowns from the Nos. 3 and 4 running backs (Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell Jr.).

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True freshman James Daniels, who was recruited as a center, played left guard that day. He gained a lot of experience this year, so he would be an excellent candidate to slide over to replace outgoing Rimington Trophy finalist Austin Blythe – especially considering Blythe's backup, Eric Simmons, is also a senior.

Could one of the three now-experienced tackles slide to guard in 2016? Of course.

"Any three of us can play any position we're asked to," Boettger said. "… I'm sure we'll figure something out."

If Iowa can stick with its original plan of Myers (6-5, 300) and Boettger (6-6, 300) at tackles, that could create an interior of left guard Sean Welsh (6-3, 288; 13 starts this year), center Daniels (6-4, 285) and right guard Croston (6-5, 295; replacing first-team all-Big Ten Jordan Walsh).

But before thoughts to 2016 hit, there's the Rose Bowl. Boettger said he's "not really close to 100 percent at this point" and is hopeful to be recovered in about a month.

Iowa's offensive line, with Myers and Croston at tackle, will try to make a bigger impact than Stanford's – which features Outland Trophy-winning right guard Joshua Garnett.

"They're basically the bullies of the Pac-12," Myers said. "We definitely want to put that to the test and show how physical we are."

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