By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Tyler Linderbaum is about to embark on a journey as an Iowa football player that very few have experienced.
The Solon native has the distinction of being Iowa’s starting center as a redshirt freshman.
Linderbaum’s future is filled with promise, opportunity and anticipation, but also with some uncertainty.
Not since Rafael Eubanks in 2006 has a freshman started at center for the Hawkeyes.
Linderbaum has risen to the top of the depth chart at center despite having been a defensive tackle at Iowa until this past December.
Linderbaum switched from defensive tackle to center during preparation for the Outback Bowl and there has been no turning back since then.
And if history is any indication, Linderbaum has a good chance of thriving in his new role because Kirk Ferentz’s track record with position changes is quite impressive.
From Dallas Clark to Eric Steinbach and Robert Gallery to Matt Roth and Josh Jackson, the list of players who have flourished after switching positions under Ferentz is long and distinguished.
And now Linderbaum has a chance to add to that list and will make his much-anticipated debut at center in Iowa’s season opener against Miami of Ohio on Aug. 31 at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz was asked on Tuesday if Linderbaum had continued his ascent and his answer was interesting to say the least.
“I would just say this; the fact that we’re not sitting here talking about him I think is a real positive thing,” Brian Ferentz said. “When I look at the experience I’ve had in coaching first-year centers, the fact that it’s not a big storyline I think is a positive.
“So he’s continues to grow. But just like anybody else, he is a first-year player and there’s things that happen every day where he’s learning and he’s growing. And there’s only one way for growth to occur, and it usually comes from some hard knocks and from some adversity and not getting everything right. That’s part of the process. So we’ve seen all that, and he’s checking all those boxes, and to me, that’s a real positive thing.”
Brian Ferentz was right to remind the media that Linderbaum’s freshman season will be filled with growing pains and with peaks and valleys because it goes with the territory.
It would be naïve and foolish to make any bold predictions about the 6-foot-3, 286-pound Linderbaum because only time, performance and luck with regard to injuries will determine that.
But Linderbaum already has done something special by earning the starting position at center as a redshirt freshman. It’s the kind of thing that just doesn’t happen very often at Iowa, or at most Big Ten schools.
And it makes me think back to an interview I had with Linderbaum’s former high school football coach, Kevin Miller, shortly after Linderbaum had committed to Iowa.
There is nothing unusual about a head coach gushing over one of his players when asked to comment about a verbal commitment.
But Miller went out of his way to praise Linderbaum and did so with conviction and passion to where you knew he wasn’t just providing coach speak.
Miller spoke about Linderbaum knowing that he was being recruited to play defensive tackle, but Miller also raved about Linderbaum’s potential at center, saying that he was made to play the position.
The center is sort of like the leader of the offensive line, and Miller said Linderbaum is a gifted leader because he has all of the necessary intangibles, including intelligence, toughness, a strong work ethic and a team-first mentality.
"The team always comes first with Tyler," Miller said in 2018. "He is all about winning as a team and sacrificing for the team, and for his teammates.
"He will do great things at Iowa."
Iowa demands a lot from its center, physically and mentally. Linderbaum has to read defenses and then react quickly at the line of scrimmage.
“There’s a lot going on, especially against college defenses, you kind of have to know a lot more,” Linderbaum said at Iowa’s annual media day event. “In high school, I wasn’t making any calls or any of that, so that’s something, just picking up concepts and all that.”
Linderbaum will have the luxury of playing alongside two of the Big Ten’s top offensive tackles in juniors Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs.
Linderbaum and Wirfs go back a long ways as former high school rivals with Wirfs a native of Mount Vernon.
They used to compete in multiple sports in high school and now share a mutual respect and admiration.
Wirfs was asked at Iowa’s media day on Aug. 9 what makes Linderbaum special, and if he was surprised that Linderbaum had climbed up the depth chart so quickly at center.
“I think his competitiveness, his drive to want to be successful (has helped),” Wirfs said. “He doesn’t want to be bad at something, he doesn’t want to be average. He wants to be great at everything that he does.
“I’ve gotten to play against him in three sports. I know how competitive he is and how seriously he takes things, so I don’t think it’s much of a surprise what he’s doing now on the other side of the ball.”
Linderbaum will start doing it for real in less than two weeks, and how he performs will go a long way in determining the success of the Iowa offense.
That’s a lot of pressure for anybody, but especially for a redshirt freshman who was playing defensive tackle at this time last year.
Kirk Ferentz, obviously, feels that Linderbaum can handle the challenge or Ferentz wouldn’t have made the position switch.
So now let’s just see how this journey unfolds.