IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa’s offensive line figures to be a source of stability this season.
But it was a jumbled mess during Saturday’s Kids Day practice at Kinnick Stadium. That was partly by design and partly because three Hawkeyes sat out with minor injuries.
Junior Ross Reynolds played left guard with the first unit. Senior stalwart Sean Welsh moved to right tackle for most of the day. Senior Boone Myers, normally the starting right tackle, spent more time with the second stringers than the first. Junior guard Keegan Render even took a few snaps at center.
What in the world?
“We’ve kind of been doing that all 12 workouts. At some point we’ll start zeroing in on that. But we’ve had good competition,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz explained afterward. “You’re always kind of throwing it around, see what kind of flexibility guys have.”
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Iowa’s offensive line was named the nation’s best last year and returns five starters. The mix-and-match unit that was on display Saturday was still effective, paving the way for 244 rushing yards on 49 carries during the 11-on-11 portion of practice. That’s five yards per tote. And, while there were too many sacks allowed, when the first-team line was in, those sacks were typically the result of good coverage downfield more than blocking breakdowns.
Of course, there were also seven false-start penalties, which rankled Ferentz.
“That’s a challenge we’re running right now. Because first-and-15s are really hard and third-and-15s are impossible,” the veteran offensive line coach lamented
Iowa was missing freshman Tristan Wirfs, junior Lucas LeGrand and sophomore Levi Paulsen up front Saturday, all dinged up but none too seriously to jeopardize their availability for the season opener Sept. 2, Ferentz said.
That forced some of the juggling.
Redshirt freshman Alaric Jackson saw plenty of first-team time at left tackle.
Alaric Jackson discusses offseason growth, learning from veterans on the offensive line. Matt Bain/Press-Citizen
But it was Reynolds, a 6-foot-4, 300-pounder out of Waukee, who might be the fastest riser this camp.
That’s according to Render, who moved from left to right guard Saturday to accommodate his usual backup.
“He’s come a long way and he’s pushing obviously for sixth man and even getting in the rotation some and sliding around,” Render said of Reynolds “He’s having a good camp.”
Render is the relative newcomer to the line, proclaiming himself much more confident after starting the final seven games a year ago. He’s still leaning on starting center James Daniels and Welsh for knowledge, but not as much as he did last August.
“I know I’m the least experienced and I just listen to those guys. Playing with them the last seven games last year helped a lot. The continuity is good,” Render said.
Welsh, his fellow starting guard, remains an inspiration, Render said. He even provides in-game scouting reports to Render when opposing defensive tackles shuffle from one side of the line to the other.
“Just the experience of how he gets ready for games — how he attacks film — has helped me along the way,” said Render, who believes he’s comfortably entrenched at left guard although he’s learning a little center just in case.
Ferentz said that his offensive line’s experience offers him the luxury of moving players around early in training camp. Welsh is a known commodity at guard, so why not mix things up a little to get more first-team experience for guys like Reynolds and Jackson? It’s a bit of a security blanket as well if injuries occur and the backups are forced into action.
“The nice thing about (Welsh) is he can probably play all five (positions) if we have to,” Ferentz said. “You just never know what combinations are going to unfold and this is a good time to play with that.”