IOWA CITY, Iowa – Line up all the starters on the Iowa offensive line and Sean Welsh would stand out for being the shortest by at least two inches.
Put the same five starters in the trenches and the 6-foot-3, 288-pound Welsh also would standout for being arguably Iowa’s best offensive lineman.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz raised a few eyebrows at a recent press conference when he compared Welsh to former Hawkeye offensive lineman Marshal Yanda, who is now a star in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens.
“Yeah, we think he’s a pretty good player,” Ferentz said of Welsh who has started 23 games as a Hawkeye. “I hate to throw this out, because I don’t want to start this train going, but Marshal comes to mind.”
Welsh is without question Iowa’s most versatile offensive lineman, now having played guard, tackle and center, which is his current home this spring.
“I’m bringing it up because what whatever we asked Marshal to do when he was here, he did it pretty well,” Ferentz said. “He wasn’t necessarily flashy or an eye-catching guy. Testing-wise, all that kind of stuff, height, width, all those types of things. He really blocked guys well, no matter where we put him. We put him at guard and tackle.
“In that regard, Sean’s like that. Wherever we move him, he seems to handle it really well. He’s not 6’6" and 330 pounds or any of that stuff, but he’s just a really good football player, really productive on the field. We make a living off players like that, really that type of guy. He’s got an unbelievable attitude.”
Welsh almost seemed embarrassed when told that Ferentz had compared him to Yanda, who played at Iowa for two seasons in 2005 and 2006.
"Just to even be mentioned in the same sentence, that’s an incredible honor for me to hear," Welsh said. "But you’ve got to be careful because you can get a little bit complacent if you let that stuff get to you.
Welsh has no time to be complacent, not with Iowa faced with the daunting task of replacing all-Big Ten center Austin Blythe, who was a senior on last season’s 12-2 team, and a three-year starter.
Iowa relies heavily on its rushing attack, which produced an average of 207.4 yards per game last season with Blythe at center.
Blythe will certainly be missed, but Ferentz seems comfortable with Welsh at center or Ferentz probably wouldn’t have made such a lofty comparison.
"You just have to use it in a positive way," Welsh said of being compared to Yanda. "You can either use it to help you or you can try to block out all the noise."
Welsh is the ultimate teammate in that he will sacrifice personal preference to make the offensive line better. He also doesn’t make football more complicated than it has to be. It still comes down to blocking the guy in front of you.
"Football is footall," Welsh said. "I’ll play wherever they put me. It’s just another opportunity they’re giving me and I’m really grateful for it. And I want to take full advantage of it."
Ferentz said after last Friday’s open practice in West Des Moines that Welsh could remain at center even after James Daniels returns from an injury, which has him out for the entire spring practice period.
Ferentz’s son, Steve Ferentz, is listed as the backup center this spring as a fifth-year senior walk-on.
Daniels was considered one of the top high school centers in the country as a senior in 2014, but he saw action at guard and tackle last season.
So wherever Welsh ends up on the offensive, Iowa likely would benefit from his presence.
"Sean’s probably our most versatile lineman," Ferentz said. "If you look at grades, he probably graded out as well as anybody last year on the football team, not just the offensive line. So we’ll try to make sure we have our bases covered. Like to come out of spring, we’re not going to be able to look at James, but knowing where Sean and Steve are and we’ll just kind of go from there."
Finding a replacement for all-Big Ten guard Jordan Walsh is another priority this spring. He and Blythe combined for 86 starts.
Junior Boone Myers began last season as the starting left tackle, but now starts at left guard.
"We felt like we’d be stronger with me moving inside," Myers said. "We have two really good tackles, and a really good interior now."
Myers said the move inside has gone smoothly.
"It’s been good," he said. "It’s all kind of the same thing. You’re blocking."
The tackles to whom Myers was referring are senior left tackle Cole Croston and junior right tackle Ike Boetgger.
Croston started 10 games last season (six at right tackle and four at left tackle), while Boettger started the first six games last season at right tackle before suffering an ankle injury.
Both players are healthy now and give Iowa experience at two key positions.
Iowa signed three offensive linemen in 2016 recruiting class, including Detroit native Alaric Jackson. He is considered a late bloomer as an offensive lineman after focusing more on playing basketball at an early age.
2016 spring depth chart
LT – Cole Croston 6-5, 307, Sr.; Brett Waechter 6-5, 290, Fr.
LG – Boone Myers 6-5, 305, Jr.; Ryan Ward 6-5, 295, Sr.
C – Sean Welsh 6-3, 288, Jr., Steve Ferentz 6-2, 282, Sr.
RG – Sean Welsh 6-3, 288, Jr., Keegan Render 6-4, 308, Soph.
RT – Ike Boettger 6-6, 3-7, Jr., Dalton Ferguson 6-4, 310, Soph.
Note: Sophomore James Daniels is not listed on the depth chart because of a knee injury that is causing him to miss spring practice.
2016 offensive line recruits
Cole Banwart 6-4, 280, Ottosen, Iowa
Alaric Jackson 6-7, 285, Detroit, Mich.
Spencer Williams 6-3, 290, Cedar Falls, Iowa