'We got a lot of guys': Iowa's offensive line still a work in progress in summer

Off the heels of spring practice, the Iowa football players have settled into a routine. Without pads the focus is on one thing: Making sure the team is in proper shape heading into fall camp.

"It's a lot of running and lifting, getting into the routine of that," Iowa veteran lineman Kyler Schott said this week. 

For the Iowa offensive line, these stretches are critical, however. Frankly, there's zero time to waste.

There's a considerable amount of turnover from the previous season. Veteran tackles Alaric Jackson and Mark Kallenberger graduated from the program and there will also be a new starter at guard. 

The changes aren't just on the field either.

George Barnett, a disciple of offensive line maven and Ferentz confidant Harry Hiestand, was hired this spring to replace Tim Polasek, who left for the offensive coordinator job at Wyoming

Despite the offseason of change, Schott is confident Iowa will field a punishing offensive line. 

Part of that is the return to normalcy. The program benefited from a full offseason, unlike last year's COVID-dominated summer. And part of that is because the Iowa football program knows how to develop offensive line play. 

"We're in a really good spot," Schott said. "With this summer period and spring ball, we were able to bring a lot of the young guys up.

"We got a lot of guys right now who can play if we need them. Spring ball was very telling of where we can be and where we hopefully will be when fall rolls around." 

Within the interior of the line, the Hawkeyes should be formidable. Alongside Schott is junior center Tyler Linderbaum, one of the nation's finest linemen. Both were named to Pro Football Focus' top 10 returning interior offensive linemen in college football. Linderbaum was ranked No. 1 and Schott was listed at No. 8. 

That's a good start. 

The inexperience is primarily at both tackle positions, however. Currently, redshirt juniors Cody Ince (who has shown the ability to play all five positions) and Jack Plumb, a high school tight end, are the favorites to fill those voids.

In addition to the player leadership of Linderbaum and Schott, first-year offensive line coach Barnett (who spent seven years at Miami of Ohio) is bringing a new approach to the room.

Barnett prioritizes fundamentals in footwork, body positioning in both the run and pass game and confidence. He has likened offensive line play to being defensive back: How does a player respond after a poor rep? 

"He just brings another aspect of offensive line play," Schott said. "We had Coach Polasek, who had his own philosophies, and now we have Coach Barnett, who has his own ways. We've been lucky to bring more people who have more views of offensive line play and ways to make us better as players."

The Iowa offensive line, shown here on May 1, is going through an extensive offseason change, with three new starters and a new positional coach.

On the other side of the ball, the defensive line group is in an almost identical situation. They also have to replace three starters from last year including third-round NFL Draft pick Chauncey Golston and fifth-round pick Daviyon Nixon.

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Spring practice was an opportunity for both sides to compete against one another and for younger players to gain valuable reps. 

"Experience is huge," Schott said. "Especially when you look at the guys we had, those guys had a lot of time under their belts and we're putting in guys that don't have much. But that doesn't really matter because every day we're going up against some of the best guys in the Big Ten, in the country. 

"They've been helping us. We've been helping them. Especially in spring ball when we're hitting heads."

Over coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure, the Hawkeyes have developed a reputation for standout offensive line play. The expectations are clear and known throughout the program.

It helped Schott become the player he is.

And it's why he feels confident Iowa's eventual new starters will develop as well.

"I watched Sean Welsh, I watched James Daniels," Schott said. "Learning from them while they were here so the younger guys learning from now, they know what to do when their name is called. 

"They know what Iowa football is and what we expect: to block people and run the ball." 

Kennington Smith is the new Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at ksmith@gannett.com