football Edit

Iowa Spring Practice: Offensive Line Makes A Push

Iowa linemen Connor Colby, Kyson Van Vugt, Kale Krogh, Cael Winter and others enter Kinnick Stadium before Iowa's open practice Saturday.
Iowa linemen Connor Colby, Kyson Van Vugt, Kale Krogh, Cael Winter and others enter Kinnick Stadium before Iowa's open practice Saturday. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

IOWA CITY — Quarterback might be the single most important position on a football team, but as the last few seasons in Iowa City have proven, the offense depends every bit as much on its line. At Saturday's open practice, Iowa's shorthanded offensive line looked — at times — downright competent.

Key phrase: at times.

"It's never overly pretty in the spring," said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. "That's one thing that hasn't changed in 25 years."

Senior tackle Mason Richman echoed his coach's comments after the practice.

"It got better over time [today]," said Richman. "There was one play we've been working on all spring, and we didn't get it down until the first play today. So that just shows, you know what we've been working on all spring. Just really proud of the whole offense."

Indeed, for as choppy as the passing game looked for much of Saturday, Iowa was able to move the point of attack with some regularity on its rushing plays — or, at minimum, keep the linebackers guessing for long enough to create some space.


With new offensive coordinator Tim Lester installing a motion-heavy, run-pass option (RPO) offense upon his hiring in February, the offensive line had the challenge of learning a new system in the 15 days of spring practice — and the reward of a scheme that challenges defenses that had gotten used to flowing downhill against the Hawkeye attack.

"What it does with some of the motion over there, you have to concentrate and focus on where your eyes are," said Iowa defensive coordinator (and reigning Broyles Award winner) Phil Parker on Thursday. "You have to be able to -- it's like driving in Chicago during rush hour. Sometimes it goes [where you expect], but they're not always doing that."

"It took me — it's practice 15 — it took me 13 practices to really understand the run fits," said returning All-American linebacker Jay Higgins. "They just do so much. They kept it simple today; smart guys, somebody's in here with a camera."

With senior center Logan Jones and junior tackle Gennings Dunker not dressed Saturday (both expected back by summer), the first and second units were as follows:

OL Depth Chart (Spring)
Left Tackle Left Guard Center Right Guard Right Tackle

58 Mason Richman (Sr)

70 Beau Stephens (Jr)

76 Tyler Elsbury (Sr)

77 Connor Colby (Sr)

56 Nick DeJong (Sr)

71 Jack Dotzler (So)

58 Kade Pieper (rFr)

66 Jeremy Chaplin (Jr)

64 Leighton Jones (rFr)

59 Trevor Lauck (rFr)

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Logan Jones hailed Tyler Elsbury's experience and versatility as key to his play at center.

"He's such a veteran guy, and I can learn a lot of things from him," said Jones. "He's really the one who taught me how to play center originally, so it's pretty cool to see him go out there and do what he does. He's a guard who can play center, he's a guard who can play tackle. He's just got reps everywhere on the offensive line, and every time he goes out there, you never notice a change [in quality]."

"I don't know how many [offensive line] combinations we've played," Lester said Thursday. "I can't wait to get Jones and Dunker back and put them in the mix. As we get everybody healthy, we'll start solidifying roles and banking reps at certain roles."

With Elsbury and DeJong stepping back into the front five in Jones and Dunkers' absence, the second unit was left with largely untested players, and those blockers struggled at times with Iowa's second unit.

Accordingly, Ferentz indicated that most of that younger unit will probably not see much time in regular rotations once the line is back to full strength.

"We're not there yet, but we're on the right track," said Ferentz Saturday. "If we can end up having eight or nine guys we put in the game, it'd be a real, real plus for us."

I asked Jones what the coaches were looking for in a practice like this, in the middle of April with a substantially different offense and two presumptive starters out.

"Just finish," Jones said. "We're in our fifteenth practice, and a lot of guys would have the mindset like, 'OK, this is like we're finally done,' versus, you know, 'this is our last practice, let's take advantage of it.' I think that's what we did, just finishing the practice and going hard."