New Hawkeye Center Tyler Linderbaum a Rare Breed
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Tyler Linderbaum walks around Iowa’s media day Friday loose as can be. He’s slapping fellow offensive linemen on their backsides, laughing and receiving approval.
Couple that with compliments from coaches and you understand why there’s a buzz around the Hawkeyes’ new starting center. Not only that, no one around here seems concerned that a redshirt freshman who switched from defensive tackle in December will be manning one of the most complicated positions on the field.
It speaks to Linderbaum’s makeup. We’re talking about a guy who played baseball for his Solon (IA) High team last summer after waking early in the mornings for training with the Iowa football team. He leaves no teammate behind.
Listed at 6-foot-3, 286 pounds, Linderbaum isn’t a road-grader in the middle. However, like the long line of successful players at this position for Iowa during the coach Kirk Ferentz era, he competes with great pad level and understands leverage.
During drills at Kids Day Saturday, he was moving around 300-pounders Cedrick Lattimore, Noah Shannon and Daviyon Nixon. He’s always played with an edge and through the whistle.
Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle has watched it for years. His son, Hawkeye linebacker Dillon Doyle, competed with Linderbaum in sports growing up.
“He had that as a kid playing Little League baseball. Basketball, wrestling, whatever he did, he’s always had a lot of pride, competitiveness and great work ethic,” Chris Doyle said.
“Part of what has accelerated his progress so quickly is his pride contributes to his rate of development. He makes a mistake, he fixes it and he gets better.”
Hawkeye right tackle Tristan Wirfs concurred. Growing up at Solon’s rival, Mouth Vernon, he competed against Linderbaum in four sports.
“I think it’s competitiveness, his drive to want to be successful. He doesn’t want to be bad at something. He doesn’t want to be average. He wants to be great at whatever he does,” Wirfs said.
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Wirfs has been impressed but not surprised with how quickly Linderbaum has picked up a position that requires strong leadership skills and knowledge, while maintaining the physical nature of the spot.
“Being an offensive lineman, what’s cool to see is him getting putdowns and knockdowns in practice. It’s a pretty hard thing to do, and he’s doing it,” Wirfs said.
On an offensive line with a senior and three juniors around him, Linderbaum has shown he belongs.
“It’s difficult for a young person to to lead, especially when he hasn’t played (in a game) yet. At the same time, he leads by example. When you see a guy that shows up and gives his best effort, and there’s no drama, he’s consistent day in and day out, he quickly gains the respect and attention of players, coaches, everybody in the building,” Doyle said.
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Offensive line coach Tim Polasek has frequently looked at his team’s defensive linemen and thought about them on his unit. He did that with Linderbaum last fall.
“You want to work with that type of aggressive athlete that can obviously run and move his feet the way he does being an inside-, outside-zone kind of team. From that standpoint, he is a good fit,” he said.
“The thing you don’t know about a guy is how accepting are the other guys going to be to him making all the communications and him being the leader of the group. That’s what’s been fun. I’m not telling you that room is his completely yet, but in short order he’s got the it factor you want from a leadership standpoint. He’s going to be a great Hawkeye for years to come.”
Linderbaum could join Bruce Nelson as the only four-year starter at center during the Ferentz Era, which hits Year 21 this fall. Standouts like James Daniels, Austin Blythe, James Ferentz and Rafael Eubanks do not claim that distinction.
Ferentz surprised outsiders in December when he announced Linderbaum’s position change. The coach had been praising him for his play at defensive tackle last fall.
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Linderbaum didn’t see it coming.
“It was kind of shocking at first. I wasn’t really expecting it. But I looked at the positives. That’s what coach Ferentz wanted me to do, and I’ve been attacking it ever since,” he said.
Bowl preparation proved difficult. He took his lumps learning terminology and schemes. He benefitted from learning under last year’s starting center, Keegan Render during that time.
Moving into the spring, Linderbaum credited offensive line veterans like Levi and Landan Paulson, and Cole Banwart, his roommate, in helping his transition. He was focused on fundamentals then and that’s continued into training camp this month.
It’s a surreal time for the freshman who grew up 20 minutes from the Iowa campus.
“Being a Hawkeye has been a dream of mine ever since I was younger. Being here around such a great group of guys has been really awesome,” he said.