Iowa football names two inexperienced starters to replace suspended players

On Saturday, two offensive tackles will take the field in their first career starts against a dynamite Northern Illinois defense.


Joseph Cress

Iowa offensive linemen Levi Paulsen warms up during a summer camp practice at the outdoor practice facility on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017. The Hawkeyes will host their annual kids day event on Saturday, Aug. 12, at Kinnick Stadium.

Anna Kayser, Assistant Sports Editor

The Iowa offensive line could have a tough time holding back the Northern Illinois defense on Saturday without its two prominent tackles.

Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson were suspended this summer following events that broke team rules.

Jackson, who redshirted in 2016, started at left tackle for every game of the 2017 regular season.

Five games into 2017, Wirfs came in as his counterpart at right tackle and rode the starting spot out through the end of the season.

In place of the familiar starting duo, the Hawkeyes have slated redshirt freshman Mark Kallenberger and senior Dalton Ferguson for the first starts of their careers.

“Anytime you go in shorthanded at any position, it’s a concern,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “To have two guys out at one position is not ideal. The good news is right now we have three guys that I think have practiced well.”

Ferguson, Kallenberger, and junior Levi Paulsen are being considered for playing time at offensive tackle for Saturday and will probably rotate, Ferentz said.

Junior Sutton Smith, a Northern Illinois defensive end, means a lot of trouble for most offensive lines. He’s quick, and with the inexperience in the Hawkeye offensive tackles, he could be a big threat.

Last season, he led the nation in three categories: sacks (14), tackles for loss (29.5), and quarterback pressures (73).

“We’re going to respect our opponents,” Paulsen said. “We’ve got guys on our defensive line with the 1s and 2s who are fast, too, so if we just take it day by day, and look at our guys, and not compare them to Northern Illinois guys but just carry over our fundamentals and our technique, I think, going forward, we’ll have a really good chance.”

With some new Hawkeyes being thrown into the mix with little to no experience, a strength in practice has been having good defenses to go up against.

Senior Parker Hesse and junior Anthony Nelson, both defensive ends, have been providing a challenge for the offensive tackles during practice, which, Ferentz said, has helped a little in the preparations.

“The bottom line is [Kallenberger and Ferguson] haven’t played a lot, and their guys are veteran, the guys from Northern Illinois are,” Ferentz said. “It’ll be interesting to watch, but I think they’ll be prepared.”

Another problem to look for with the offensive line in general is the role inexperience among the tackles and the other positions plays a role.

However, the team has known for weeks that it would be without its go-to offensive tackles, so there has been time to adjust and work closely to find continuity.

“Obviously, we knew a while back that we were going to have this problem, so I think we’ve been working well with Dalton and with Mark, just trying to get them reps and trying to get everyone feeling on the same page,” offensive lineman Keegan Render said.

The development that has come from the closely knit workouts with the offensive lines and defensive lines for Kallenberger and Ferguson has seemed to help during practice, those on the field and the coaches say, but the real test will be on the Kinnick Stadium turf come game time.