James Daniels’ decision to pursue his future in the NFL leaves the Iowa offensive line with plenty of questions and less experience as the Hawkeyes turn their thoughts to the 2018 season.
Replacing Sean Welsh, a 49-game starter at guard and tackle over the past four seasons, was already on the agenda for the spring before Daniels announced Friday that he was declaring himself eligible for this year’s draft.
That adds developing a new starting center to the list of projects Iowa will need to complete during the offseason.
Cole Banwart, a sophomore next season, was listed as Daniels’ back-up for last month’s Pinstripe Bowl but was on crutches during the week leading up to the Dec. 27 game and at the game itself.
Banwart and Spencer Williams, also a sophomore, were listed as Iowa’s back-up center throughout the 2017 season. Both dealt with injuries and saw only limited action in a reserve role, both seeing time late in two games that had been decided before they took the field.
Iowa does return two players who have started at center over the past two seasons, moved into that role as Daniels dealt with injuries.
Lucas LeGrand, a senior next fall, started two games at the position during the 2016 season and saw only limited action in 2017 as he dealt with injuries.
Keegan Render started at center in the Hawkeyes’ 2017 season opener against Wyoming, the only game Daniels missed during the recently completed season.
He also started at left guard and right guard during the Hawkeyes’ 8-5 year and with 20 career starts on his resume entering his senior season, Render is Iowa’s most-experienced returning offensive lineman.
“We have good talent on the line, guys who have been working hard,’’ Render said prior to the Pinstripe Bowl. “We have some guys back and we’ll miss Sean. Even though we’re a little limited right now, I feel like over this season we’ve developed the type of depth that we will need.’’
In addition to Ross Reynolds, a guard preparing for his senior year who rotated with Render, offensive line coach Tim Polasek will have experience at two tackle spots returning in Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs, starters in 12 and eight games last fall as freshmen.
Jackson was suspended for Iowa’s bowl game, shifting Wirfs from right tackle to left for that game. Levi Paulsen started in place of Jackson, who is expected back this spring, and will be in the mix at either a tackle or guard position once spring drills begin in March.
Former Bettendorf prep Mark Kallenberger lined up as a number two tackle during pregame warm-ups at the Pinstripe Bowl before completing his redshirt year as a freshman. He is positioned to compete for a role among Iowa’s top linemen this spring.