A tale of two lines

BY DANNY PAYNE | APRIL 16, 2015 5:00 AM

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Following Iowa’s performance in West Des Moines last weekend, Hawkeye fans could either be very encouraged or discouraged by the team’s play on the offensive and defensive lines. Defensive-line coach Reese Morgan and offensive-line coach Brian Ferentz met the media Wednesday to discuss the units.

The not-so-encouraging

Fewer than a few yards from those defensive linemen is where the concerns lie. Tackles Boettger, along with Boone Meyers, had trouble handling Iowa’s defense, which is to be expected given the fact those two are replacing Andrew Donnal and Brandon Scherff, respectively.

For Ferentz, he doesn’t expect them to be at the level of their predecessors — that would be an unrealistic expectation.

They are young, after all. Ferentz said Boettger, in particular, had “a look in his eyes that maybe was not encouraging,” when he had to go in for an injured Scherff in the Ball State in September 2014.

To combat that inexperience comes repetitions, something Ferentz knows is the most important thing to get his tackles up to speed.

“Every day right now is just a learning experience for these guys, so I don’t think we want to look too far into the future,” Ferentz said.

The encouraging

If the season started today, the Hawkeyes would line up Nate Meier, Jaleel Johnson, Nate Bazata, and Drew Ott. That means playing with a wealth of experience on the outside in Meier and Ott, as well as a decent amount of playing time from Johnson and Ott.

Ott’s team-leading 7.5 sacks are back from a year ago, as are Meier’s 1.5. Meier, especially, impressed observers in the team’s open practice last week, having his way with offensive tackle Ike Boettger — good signs for the Hawkeyes.

“A year ago at this time the big concern was can Nate be an every-down defensive lineman with his size. He answered those questions last spring and last season,” Morgan said. “We still have to detail things in terms of his technique. He’s an undersized guy who thinks he’s bigger and tougher than he is, and you love that about him, but he’s making some progress.”

On the inside, there are more unknowns. Behind the two starters, Iowa has Faith Ekakitie, as well as somewhat of an newcomer — Kyle Terlouw, a 6-4, 288-pound junior from Sully.

“He’s going to play for us next year,” Morgan said. “He’s going to get on the field. He’s very tough … He’s a work in progress, now. He’s a pickup truck with some used tires on it.”

Blythe, then question marks

Iowa was lucky last season.

After injuries forced usual center Austin Blythe to switch to guard, Tommy Gaul was forced to step in and play center for a good chunk of the year. Playing perhaps the toughest position on the line, Gaul did a great job for the Hawkeyes.

The plan is to use Blythe at center all season, but should an injury happen, the Hawkeyes know they may not be as fortunate as it was in 2014.

Eric Simmons is listed as Blythe’s backup, but Ferentz mentioned his younger brother, Steve, as a possibility, along with freshmen-to-be James Daniels and Jake Newborg.

“You never want to break in a new center,” Ferentz said. “I think the issue right now is trying to find somebody to play center if he can’t, because that’s a very real possibility. You never know what’s going to happen on every snap, and I don’t think — I think we feel good about our depth on the inside, not necessarily at the center position.”

Follow @dannyapayne on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa football team.

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