December 9, 2023

Kirk Ferentz focusing on strengthening Iowa’s offensive line this spring

Iowa Hawkeyes Football

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz glances towards the crowd during a timeout in the first quarter of the Music City Bowl against Kentucky Saturday December 31, 2022 at Nissan Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It’s no mystery that the Hawkeyes’ offense had a glaring weakness last season that started with the big boys up front.

The loss of Tyler Linderbaum, plus a plague of injuries, decimated the unit, and Iowa’s offense finished with embarrassing¬† numbers once the smoke cleared. Which is why Coach Kirk Ferentz is determined to keep the group from being a liability again as his team navigates through spring ball.

After all, Ferentz is approaching his 25th season on the job. Not to mention he has sent a plethora of offensive linemen to the NFL during his tenure. Over the past couple of months he’s had time to sit back and reflect on why his offensive line crumbled down the stretch.

The Hawkeyes allowed 38 sacks in 2022, which ranked 12th in the Big Ten, and tied for 105th in the FBS. There were no gaping holes for the running backs to plow through, and Iowa finished dead last in the league in rushing offense. The passing production was abysmal, and it was also the first time since 2007 that no Iowa offensive lineman received All-Big Ten recognition. So Ferentz understands that’s something that has to change in order for the offense to make strides in 2023.

“The more I watch film, especially in the offensive line, it’s just hard to duplicate experience, whether it’s playing or practicing,” Ferentz said. “From my experience, the only way you get better is going out there, you have to practice it, you have to rep it, just get better at developing your skills, plus physical maturity helps.”

Ferentz emphasized during Wednesday’s press conference that the Hawkeyes are currently thin up front. A player suffered an injury last week, and will miss the remainder of the spring. At this point it’s all about making adjustments on the fly. The depth chart was also released, with some familiar faces up front as far as the projected starters.

It listed Logan Jones at center, Beau Stephens and Connor Colby along the interior, and Nick DeJong and Mason Richman out on the edge. Ferentz knows the blue collar Big Ten like the back of his hand, so depth is going to be vital.

Injuries are bound to happen, so the Hawkeyes need to instill that next man up mentality. Tyler Elsbury and Jack Dotzler are versatile enough to plug in at multiple positions. Regardless of the current situation, Ferentz feels the group has looked promising throughout spring ball.

“I still remain very cautiously optimistic if we can get what we need to get done in reasonable fashion,” he said. “I think we’re going to be just fine, but I’d be misleading if I said the last two years have been the standard we want or hope for.”

Ferentz wants to see the offensive line executing at the point of attack again. However, that’s going to take time, and require good hand placement, along with physicality. Anything to get the unit back to dominating in the trenches, and mauling defensive linemen on every play.

Ferentz expects some growing pains. Yet and still he doesn’t want fingers being pointed in the locker room. Although mistakes will be made, every member of the group has to hold himself accountable.

“There are other times where we don’t block or finish the way we need to, so I think that’s going to be our next step,” the 67-year old said. “The key is going to be getting guys out there where they can work long enough, get the reps they need.”

Now that Michigan transfer Cade McNamara is at the helms of the offense, he’s going to require solid protection up front to thrive in the system. Building chemistry and trust will go a long way. It also helps that the offensive line is going up against one of the best defensive lines in the country everyday in practice. Despite the unit being somewhat limited, Ferentz remains optimistic the bunch will accomplish several goals over the next few weeks.

“Probably the hardest place to play physically, it takes a little bit more maturity, and there’s a challenge there in just that repetition of the work you can’t necessarily get.”