Offensive line coach Tim Polasek eager to help embattled Iowa Hawkeye football find a better path
Tim Polasek’s work these days involves much more than just trying to prepare a group of Iowa Hawkeye offensive linemen to hold up against Big Ten Conference competition.
The Iowa football team is also attempting to change the way players are treated after dozens of athletes took to social media a month ago to raise questions about racial disparities they encountered while members of the program that Kirk Ferentz has led since 1999. The result, so far, has been the removal of longtime strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle (with a $1.1 million payout) and the launching of an external investigation of the program by a trio of lawyers.
Polasek, entering his fourth season as Iowa’s offensive line coach, said on the “HawkCentral” radio show on KxNO in Des Moines on Wednesday that much more needs to be done, and that he is eager to help put the Hawkeyes on a different path.
Polasek, like many other Hawkeye coaches and players, spoke of the importance of two days of team meetings that occurred last month. That allowed everyone to clear the air and begin to focus on what can be done to make the culture better, he said.
“We can’t look at it like it’s a moment in time. We’ve got to look at it like it’s a movement that’s going to take some big-time effort. It’s going to take listening on a lot of different people’s part,” Polasek said.
“We’re here to create an environment where guys can be successful, where they can reach their full potential. I look forward to the challenge and seeing how tight and how together we can become and compassionate towards the situation.”
Veterans will man Iowa's tackle spots, and protect new QB Spencer Petras
Polasek’s offensive line got a big addition during the offseason when Coy Cronk (6-foot-5, 325 pounds) transferred from Indiana to play his final season as a Hawkeye. Cronk started 40 games at left tackle for the Hoosiers and was a team captain last year before suffering a season-ending leg injury in Week 4. He figures to move to right tackle at Iowa, replacing Tristan Wirfs.
“I think there’s a toughness there. I think there’s a really good work ethic,” Polasek said of Cronk. “And then on top of that, he’s an intelligent, older guy. Eventually, he’ll provide some leadership for the group and being able to spread the wealth.”
Polasek said Cronk arrived at Iowa with a nagging foot injury but is moving better now.
So is Alaric Jackson, who put off the NFL Draft in order to play his fourth season as a Hawkeye. Jackson battled through a knee injury as a junior, but has been impressive this month during workouts, Polasek said.
Jackson, along with redshirt sophomore center Tyler Linderbaum, have been leading the linemen in skills drills since Polasek is not yet allowed to provide in-person instruction.
“He’s really motivated to have a better season,” Polasek said of Jackson.
Having an excellent and healthy tackle tandem is particularly essential for the Hawkeyes since they’ll be breaking in a new starting quarterback. Nate Stanley has graduated and the job will likely fall to sophomore Spencer Petras.
“We’ve got to get our quarterback off to a good start,” Polasek has been telling his linemen. “We’ve got to allow him to feel as comfortable as possible.”
A plethora of options at guard for Hawkeyes
Cronk is roommates with junior Mark Kallenberger, who would have been first in line to start at right tackle this season otherwise. Kallenberger, a Bettendorf native, slid inside to start five games at guard last year and will be in the mix at both positions this season, Polasek said.
“It’s pretty clear that he has some momentum going into the season,” Polasek said of Kallenberger.
Others fighting for starting guard spots will be Kyler Schott, Cody Ince, Cole Banwart, Justin Britt and possibly Noah Fenske and Tyler Endres. Somewhere in that mix will be the backup center as well, although Linderbaum started all 13 games a year ago and is durable and punishing at that spot.
Final word ... Best offensive line in the Big Ten?
Polasek revealed that an offseason exercise was to have his linemen look at their 40 best and 40 worst plays from a season ago. Polasek and graduate assistant Dylan Chmura picked the plays.
Each player then graded themselves on how they performed their specific assignment on the play, their technique and their finish. It doesn’t sound particularly fun to be reminded of your poorest plays, but Polasek reported that his players actually appreciated the process.
“They enjoyed being able to compare and contrast their best plays vs. their worst plays,” he said.
Now, the goal is to eliminate any poor plays by Iowa’s blockers. Polasek was asked if the Hawkeye line could be the best in the Big Ten Conference this season.
“True,” he allowed, “but we’ve got a lot of work to do.
“What I really like about this group going into year four is I think they really understand what we’re looking for from an enthusiasm standpoint, from being improvement-driven. And it seems to be a lot of ownership. I think we’re humble and I think we’re really hungry.”
No one covers the Hawkeyes like the Register. Subscribe today at Des Moines Register.com/Deal to make sure you never miss a moment.