Iowa's only known offensive line starter is Tyler Linderbaum. After him? We'll see.

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa offensive line brings an element of uncertainty into Saturday’s home football opener against No. 17 Indiana.

Between injuries and youth, the Hawkeyes are cutting it close to determine which five players will start in the 2:30 p.m. CT clash versus the Hoosiers. On Wednesday, Iowa offensive line coach George Barnett said the coaching staff might be mulling decisions into Friday. Some of that delay has to do with determining which players are available.

"We haven’t gotten down and talked about exactly who’s doing what for Saturday. It’s still that work in progress," Barnett said after Iowa completed its final full game-week practice Wednesday morning. (The Hawkeyes have Thursdays off and a light practice/walk-through on Fridays.) "I know it’s not what you want to hear today. But that’s the situation we’re in."

Between Barnett’s 15 minutes with reporters and head coach Kirk Ferentz’s 30-minute news conference Tuesday, only one name was deemed by both as certain to start Saturday: preseason all-American center Tyler Linderbaum.

After that, we’ll see.

Iowa offensive line coach George Barnett, right, works with center Tyler Linderbaum during spring practice. Barnett has had to wade through some injuries during the last few weeks of fall camp.

"It's frustrating, especially the end of last week (with injuries)," Ferentz said. "We had a lot of guys in and out and the week before, too.

"So, it just makes it tough to really gauge where guys are at."

That’s not exactly an ideal situation considering the opponent. The 18th-ranked Hawkeyes were already dealing with replacing their top three offensive tackles from last season, then they were dealt a blow at guard when Kyler Schott fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot just before fall camp. Schott will be out at least the first two weeks of the season. Ferentz and Barnett were coy about who else has missed time.

We’ll find out more during pregame warmups Saturday. But Ferentz did say 6-8 offensive linemen may play.

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Given what Barnett said Wednesday, all four tackles on the depth chart are in the mix — first-teamers Jack Plumb and Nick DeJong, and second-teamers Mason Richman and Connor Colby.

Colby, a true freshman from Cedar Rapids Kennedy, has risen fast to join the Week 1 conversation. He’s listed at right tackle but also has been working at guard. Whether he’s trusted against an attacking Indiana defense that led the Big Ten in sacks per game (3.13) in 2020 is another question.

Iowa offensive lineman Connor Colby (77) speaks to reporters during Hawkeyes football media day, Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, in Iowa City, Iowa.

"He had big jumps early on because of his youth, and he’s just steady every day," Barnett said. "I think the more he plays, the better he’s going to get. … He’s learning the game, learning the schematics."

Assuming he's healthy, Richman would be a lock to play. He was the No. 1 left tackle during the Kids Day scrimmage, with Plumb as the backup. But Plumb was on the No. 1 line on this week’s depth chart. Richman can also play left guard, which could be important — especially if listed No. 1 guards Cody Ince or Justin Britt are limited or unavailable. Unsolicited, Barnett also brought up true freshman Beau Stephens (6-foot-6, 300 pounds from Blue Springs, Missouri) as getting some important reps.

"He’s been a joy to watch, but he’s got work to do," Barnett added.

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One thing Iowa’s offensive-line leaders — Ferentz, Barnett and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz — agree on is performing on the practice field is one thing; performing in front of an expected crowd of 67,000 Saturday at Kinnick Stadium is another. If the moment is too big for a player, the coaching staff won’t hesitate to make a move.

Barnett, in his first year at Iowa after replacing Tim Polasek, said final personnel decisions are "going to be a group effort (with) a lot of feedback. And the great thing here is you have a lot of great minds when it comes to (the) offensive line."