Kirk Ferentz didn’t want to use the word “unsettled” when he described his offensive line for the 2021 season.
It’s a puzzle that always seems to be solved for the Hawkeyes. Pieces always seem to fit, and when someone gets hurt, another piece slides in.
And while it looks, on the depth chart, as if everything is solved, it’s not.
“I couldn't tell you who's going to be starting when we get the season going here,” Ferentz said at the Hawkeyes’ media day earlier this month. “Have a better idea when we have our press conference before the (season opener against Indiana) who's going to be at least the two deep, but right now it's wide open for everybody to compete.”
The shuffle started before camp began.
Kyler Schott, No. 1 at right guard, is out at least for the first couple of weeks with a broken foot suffered in an accident on his family’s farm. Justin Britt, No. 2 at the position, slides in for now.
Ferentz said there was a rotation at the two tackle spots — junior Jack Plumb and redshirt Mason Richman on the left side and sophomore Nick DeJong and true freshman Connor Colby on the right side.
“Those guys are all young guys that haven't played much, and every snap is important,” Ferentz said.
Plumb started two games at right tackle last season, and has played 20 games in his career. Richman played in three games last season. DeJong played in seven games last season, some on special teams. Colby has been a pleasant surprise after joining the team in the spring.
Britt has had his own injury issues throughout his career, and with Schott unavailable has received plenty of work in the preseason.
“He's missed a lot of time — I say a lot of time — significant time during the course of his career with injuries,” Ferentz said. “So it's tough to get better when you're not out working, but the good news right now is he's gotten a lot of quality work in these seven or eight days that we've practiced, and every snap is so valuable for him.”
The anchor, of course, is center Tyler Linderbaum, an Associated Press preseason All-American who is one of the best in the nation at his position. He has been at the spot for the last two seasons, starting all 21 games.
“It's a critical position, I think, for most teams and certainly in our, with our philosophy, we really believe you want somebody in there who really is capable of doing a lot of things besides blocking well,” Ferentz said. “I don't know if it gets any better than Tyler.”
Linderbaum will have Cody Ince next to him at left guard. Ince started the final six games at that position at the end of last season, finishing as an honorable-mention All-Big Ten pick.
Linderbaum and Ince are in their spots. Who will be surrounding them next week on the depth chart remains to be seen.
The Hawkeyes, though, always find a way to figure it out.