Hawkeyes Taylor, Welsh try to tune out ample summer hype

Mark Emmert

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Media outlets have declared that the Iowa football team has the best offensive line and the No. 7 defensive backfield in the nation.

The Hawkeye response to that Wednesday was: Huh?

Junior safety Miles Taylor claimed he hadn’t seen the Fox Sports rankings that included his Iowa quartet.

Sean Welsh, playing guard last year, fires off the ball for Iowa. Now a center, the junior is aware of the accolades he and his teammates are receiving, but trying to ignore them.

“Seventh? Wow,” Taylor said. “It really doesn’t make a difference. As long as we’re doing what we’re supposed to do and not giving up big plays. That’s the only thing that matters is Iowa football. I don’t care about LSU and I don’t care about other teams. … I’m focused on this defense and this team.”

Of course, LSU was No. 1 on that list, so perhaps Taylor had taken a peek.

As for offensive line, that has long been a Hawkeye strength, and this year’s unit does have experience, if not depth. It also has junior Sean Welsh sliding to the center position after playing guard and even some tackle the previous two seasons. Welsh was doubly bemused to find himself both on a group ranked the best in the nation by ESPN and individually on a “watch list” for the Rimington Award given to the nation’s top center.

“For God’s sake, I haven’t even played the position yet,” Welsh said. “It’s an honor, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

The rankings, coming seven weeks before the season has even begun, are meaningless. But they do point to an Iowa team getting some rare national buzz after a 12-2 season. The secondary will be anchored by cornerback Desmond King, winner of the Thorpe Award a year ago as the nation’s best defensive back (and, yes, he’s on the watch list to repeat that feat). Greg Mabin, Brandon Snyder and Taylor also have a great deal of experience.

The offensive line features a sophomore, three juniors and a senior, with the versatile Welsh now in the middle.

Hopes should be high for both groups. But both are also coming off a bumpy performance in a season-ending 45-16 loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

Welsh certainly hasn’t forgotten.

“Any ranking like that, we try not to buy into them,” he said. “We let up how many sacks in the Rose Bowl?”

That would be seven.

And that would be fuel for Welsh and his linemates (Ike Boettger, Cole Croston, James Daniels and Boone Myers).

Welsh came to Iowa from Springboro, Ohio, expecting to play guard. He was a left tackle in high school, but at 6 feet, 2½ inches was prepared to slide inside. And he did, although he saw some time at right tackle as well.

With Daniels sidelined by injury this spring, Welsh was on the move again, making the adjustment to snapping the football through hours of repetition with quarterback C.J. Beathard.

“The stance is a little different in terms of where you put your weight. And there’s a little more thinking involved,” Welsh said of playing center. “We’re keeping at it. I’m snapping still in drills.”

Welsh, a junior, said the aspiration is to be a better offensive line than a year ago, even with the graduation losses of Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh. Welsh said defining “better” isn’t limited to statistics like rushing yards and sacks allowed.

“It’s more of just you can see it on film. It’s a play-by-play thing,” he said. “You either did your job or you didn’t, and it’s really visible.”

If that sounds like a veteran talking, it should. Welsh recalled his indoctrination to college football at the hands of Brandon Scherff and Andrew Donnal. There were lessons about the sport, but more importantly about how to behave.

“Little tips to help you, like not having your headphones in when you’re walking through the weight room because someone might yell at you,” Welsh recalled. “Or showing you how to eat. Because you come from high school and you’re used to eating junk food and going out there and playing fine. These guys show you how to eat and how to shop for yourself.”

Welsh is passing those lessons along to a new crop of freshmen, but they are unlikely to lighten his workload this fall. Welsh will start out at center, but who knows if that’s where he stays as the season wears on? He could be back at guard, or tackle. Iowa is also thin at tight end behind starter George Kittle now that Jameer Outsey transferred.

“I would love that opportunity,” Welsh said of potentially lining up as a pass-catcher. “Even if I got to play left tackle, I think it would be awesome to say I played all five (offensive line positions). But I’ll go wherever they need me.”

Welsh said he was “too unathletic” to play tight end in high school. It was suggested he might want to come up with a touchdown celebration, just in case he’s called on this year.

“It’s something I probably should put a lot more thought into. Try to think of something original,” Welsh joked.

If Welsh is on the watch list for the John Mackey Award next summer, you’ll know how things turned out.