IOWA CITY, Iowa – He looks the part.
That’s Ike Boettger at this early because there is nothing else to support an opinion besides the fact that the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Boettger looks like a physically imposing Big Ten offensive lineman.
Seventy additional pounds and two years under the supervision of Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle has transformed Boettger from a skill player in high school – he played quarterback and tight end for Cedar Falls High School – into a superbly shaped offensive lineman.
No saddle bags. No stomach hangover. Just a big, burly blocker who carries his added weight effortlessly as it fits so naturally on his big-boned frame.
Now the question about Boettger is whether he can play as impressively as he looks?
The fact that he is poised to replace Andrew Donnal as Iowa’s starting right tackle is a testimony to Boettger’s talent as a third-year sophomore. But we won’t know for sure about his potential until Boettger starts playing in the Sept. 5 season opener against Illinois State at Kinnick Stadium.
Asked after the Kids Day practice on Saturday if he feels any pressure, Boettger said:
“I’d say kind of. But I try not to think about that. I just try to go play football.”
Boettger fits the mold of an Iowa offensive lineman in more ways than just appearance. He was lightly recruited in high school and switched to the offensive line after coming to Iowa as a tight end.
Some of Iowa’s best offensive linemen under head coach Kirk Ferentz traveled the same path. Former stars such as Eric Steinbach, Bruce Nelson and Robert Gallery all came to Iowa as tight ends, but then switched to the offensive line where they excelled.
“It’s a little different, but I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Boettger said being an offensive lineman. “I love playing tackle here. I love it.”
Boettger is smart to ignore the pressure, or at least try to ignore it, because it’s palpable and could become a distraction.
There is pressure on the team to win for Ferentz. There is pressure to run the ball and pressure to protect
quarterback C.J. Beathard in the pocket.
And much of that pressure can be tied directly to Boettger, who appeared in eight games last season as a reserve tackle.
The other starting tackle – sophomore and former walk-on Boone Myers – has even more pressure as the replacement for 2014 Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff at left tackle.
“That’s what we all work for, to be the guy on the offensive line,” Boettger said. “So it’s exciting. And I’m really enjoying the opportunity and the process.”
It’s unlikely that Boettger enjoyed all of what happened during the Kids Day practice on Saturday because he and Myers certainly took their lumps against Iowa’s two senior defensive ends, Drew Ott and Nate Meier. Ott caused the pocket to collapse over and over, and usually did so at the expense of Myers, while Meier often had his way with Boettger.
The good news is that Iowa probably won’t face a better pair of defensive ends this season than Ott and Meier, especially since Ohio State and Michigan State aren’t on the regular-season schedule.
“That’s a great feeling knowing that,” Boettger said. “But you have to be ready to go every single day when you go out to practice. Those are two really good players, so just be ready to go every day.”
Boettger senses that the offensive line, which includes three returning starters in the interior, is starting to come together and jell as a unit.
“I’d say it’s getting better,” he said. “I’m getting more comfortable with the position. Me and Boone, and all of us on the offensive line, are getting more comfortable working together as a unit.
“But we still have a long ways to go.”
That’s pretty much how Kirk Ferentz described the offensive line this past Saturday. There is reason for hope despite having to replace a superstar and a solid performer at both tackle positions.
“There were a couple plays today that a couple of our tackles would like to have back,” Ferentz said without being more specific. “But the good news, I think we started, at least I felt like I started seeing some growth and improvement mid-week from those guys.
“And it’s not going to show up on every play right now. It’s ongoing. And as long as we’re gaining ground, that’s the big thing. And I think we are right now.”
Boettger and Myers often get lumped together with questions about the offensive line. This past Saturday was no exception.
“Both he and Boone are very quality guys, they’re hard-working guys, intelligent,” Ferentz said. “And to me, it’s just a matter of time. But they’re both running the race well right now.”