Iowa OL: “A Bunch of Nobodies Trying to be Somebody”

October 15, 2020

Written by Rick Brown

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Iowa’s offensive line is an eclectic group.

Tackle Alaric Jackson and center Tyler Linderbaum have all-American potential.

“It starts with Alaric and Tyler,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said. “They’re
practicing at a very high level, which is good to see.”

There’s also a coach’s dream of a graduate transfer in tackle Coy Cronk, who brings
40 starts with him from Indiana and has bought into the Iowa way of line play.

“A veteran, steady presence, a guy with a lot of ability that I think is going to play at
a high level,” Ferentz said.

Three players with starting experience – Kyler Schott, Cole Banwart and Mark
Kallenberger – are in contention for the guard spots.

And there’s promising underclassmen like center Justin Britt, guards Cody Ince,
Luke Empen and Noah Fenske and tackle Jack Plumb trying to earn a spot in the
playing rotation.

“We’ve got some really unique guys in the offensive line who get it,” said Tim
Polasek, in his fourth season as Iowa’s offensive line coach. “Right now we’re just
focused on being together, and being tough. We’re a bunch of nobodies trying to be
somebody. I like this group. I like the energy. I like the leadership. I like where this
group’s mindset is.”

When we last watched Iowa play a football game, a 49-24 victory against USC in the
Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27, Jackson started at left tackle, Kallenberger at left guard,
Linderbaum at center, Schott at right guard and Tristan Wirfs at right tackle.
Wirfs, a first-round NFL draft pick who is now blocking for Tom Brady at Tampa
Bay, is the only player not back.

Eight different players earned starts a season ago. Linderbaum, a redshirt
sophomore from Solon, is the only one to start all 13 games at the same position. He
was named to the Rimington Trophy Watch List on Wednesday. The award goes to
college football’s premier center.

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“He’s gotten better athletically,” Polasek said of the 6-foot 3-inch, 289-pounder “He’s
better physically. He’s stronger and bigger. He’s as tough as nails. He really cares.”
Linderbaum’s progress, since being moved from defensive line to center after the
2018 season, has been impressive. His grasp of a new position, and playing it at a
high level, already has some predicting he’ll be an early entry into the NFL Draft.
It’s his leadership skills that have Polasek excited. Linderbaum and quarterback
Spencer Petras are roommates.

“These guys are football junkies,” Polasek said. “I was getting texts in the middle of
June, when we didn’t even know if we were going to be playing. It was like, “Coach,
what about this? Can I do that? I just think (Linderbaum’s) conceptual
understanding of our system, his conceptual understanding of how flexible some
things in front can be and taking advantage of that, is really exciting.”

Polasek said that Linderbaum’s knowledge of the system and his desire to get better
will pay dividends this season. And it will make the entire offensive line better when
Linderbaum shares his knowledge with them.

The 6-6, 315-pound Jackson was a third-team all-Big Ten selection last season,
starting all 10 games he played in. He missed three early-season games due to a
knee injury. Jackson skipped the opportunity to enter the NFL Draft early to return
to Iowa for his senior season. He has started 34 games at left tackle.

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Cronk (6-5, 305) started the first four games last season at Indiana, but was lost for
the remainder of the year with an ankle injury.

“This guy, from a character standpoint, you’d think he was a sophomore trying to
break through,” Polasek said. “That’s how coachable he is. I really appreciate that. I
think he’s eager for football in general. I really appreciate his approach daily. He’s
trying to do it our way, the technique, the system. He’s not a guy I’ve got to worry
about, like, “OK, he’s going to revert back to the way he was coached before.’ With
that being said, Indiana did a great job. But the things we are doing up front are
different. So he’s meeting those challenges.”

Banwart (6-4, 296) started seven games at right guard in 2018, and two games there
in 2019. But an injury knocked the senior out of the last eight games. Schott (6-2,
293) started six games at right guard and one at left guard in 2019. He is a junior.

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“It’s good to see a guy like Cole Banwart back in the fold coming off surgery,”
Ferentz said. “Kyler Schott was in and out of the lineup last year. Both guys are
healthy and practicing at a very high level. Both provide a lot of depth and versatility
on the interior of the offensive line, which is extremely valuable and will become
even more valuable as the season progresses.”

In addition to starting the bowl game at left guard, Kallenberger (6-5, 290) started
four games at right guard.

“Mark had one of those seasons last year where he was up and down,” Polasek said
of the junior. “Practice wasn’t consistent. He didn’t get off to a great start in fall
camp. Mark’s got to capitalize on his opportunities.”

He did that in bowl preparation, earning the starting left guard spot and taking that
confidence and experience into 2020.

If he had to start a game tomorrow, Ferentz said that Linderbaum would get the nod
at center, Jackson at left tackle and Cronk at right tackle.

“Cole and Shooter (Schott), those two are certainly in the mix (at guard),” Ferentz
said, also mentioning Ince (6-4, 285), a sophomore, and Kallenberger. “We have a lot
of guys working to improve.”

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