Epenesa, Golston helping Hawkeye offensive line develop

The Hawkeye offensive line is looking to defensive players Chauncey Golston and A.J. Epenesa for help in preparation for 2019.

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Epenesa, Golston helping Hawkeye offensive line develop

Iowa defensive end AJ Epenesa poses for a portrait at Iowa Football Media Day on Friday, August 9, 2019. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa defensive end AJ Epenesa poses for a portrait at Iowa Football Media Day on Friday, August 9, 2019. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa defensive end AJ Epenesa poses for a portrait at Iowa Football Media Day on Friday, August 9, 2019. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Shivansh Ahuja

Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa defensive end AJ Epenesa poses for a portrait at Iowa Football Media Day on Friday, August 9, 2019. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Pete Mills, Assistant Sports Editor

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It’s a little more than three weeks from game day for Iowa football, and there is a lot of uncertainty on both the offensive and defensive lines. But what is clear now to coaches is that there is a ton of talent on both sides.

Defensive end is set up to be stacked despite departures of such key pieces as Anthony Nelson and Matt Nelson.

A.J. Epenesa and Chauncey Golston return this season after leading the team in sacks and fumble recoveries last season, despite somewhat limited snaps. Epenesa — one of the top defensive prospects nationally — had 37 tackles and 10.5 sacks last season, even though he never made a start. Golston has been versatile in his career, playing both tackle and end, and he led the Big Ten in fumble recoveries last year with 3 and also tacked on 3.5 sacks.

The experience and dynamic play of Golston and Epenesa, while important to the defense, is doing something else for the team: getting the offensive line ready for Big Ten play. Having the two defenders to face off against the offensive line in practice, coaches said, is invaluable.

“Competition is good; competition is healthy,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said. “When you have really good defensive players working against offensive players, that’s a good thing … It’s been a real positive with A.J. and Chauncey, there’s some real speed and ability there, so it’s very good for our guys to work against them.”

And while there’s some probable NFL talent at defensive end, it’s met with nearly equal talent at offensive tackle. The positions face each other in reps during practice, but offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs isn’t sure if it’s a coincidence that each side has been so dynamic.

“It might be,” he said. “We’re just trying to make each other better. They’ll beat us sometimes, we’ll beat them sometimes. It’s back and forth.”

Having that kind of star power on the defensive side, offensive-line coach Tim Polasek said, helps him learn more about the guys in his unit. Especially at this point in the season, when there are still players battling for reps and positions, it’s quite useful to have some of the best defensive ends in the country on the other side of the line. But that’s also no excuse for Polasek, who expects results from his players despite the stiff competition.

“Those guys are all competing hard,” he said. “They’re showing great enthusiasm and energy in practice … [But] they’ve got to find a way to win. We’re looking for about an 85 percent win rate [in reps] when we chart this stuff. You’ve got to be in the plus column.”

They have to battle each other in practice, but it seems to be a largely positive team-building exercise more than anything. Wirfs — who matches up with Golston in practice — said the two have a mutually beneficial, competitive relationship.

“When I and Chauncey go at each other, if I see something that he doesn’t, I’ll tell him about it after the rep,” Wirfs said. “If he sees me leaning or if my hands are down, he’ll tell me after the rep. Unless we get a little mad at each other, then he won’t tell me, and I won’t tell him.”

Results won’t be known for a few weeks. But preparation is key, and the Hawkeye defensive ends hold the lock for the Hawkeye offensive linemen.