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Hawkeye line still seeking a growth spurt

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Iowa offensive linemen Nick DeJong (56) and Mason Richman (78) move to block South Dakota State defensive end Quinton Hicks during the Hawkeyes' season-opening win at Kinnick Stadium.

IOWA CITY — When Iowa kicks off its Big Ten football schedule Saturday at Rutgers, it will be another test for the Hawkeyes’ offensive line.

The front five remains a work in progress as Iowa prepares for the 6:10 p.m. game at SHI Stadium.

"I think we’re gaining ground, but we’re not there yet," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "There’s still some little things we can do a lot better and that gets back to experience."

That’s where every minute counts.

That came into play last Saturday night when offensive line coach George Barnett used time during weather delays as an opportunity for his position group to learn.

While teammates were talking, playing some cards or finding other ways to keep themselves occupied in the Iowa locker room during nearly four hours of weather delays during the Hawkeyes’ win over Nevada, offensive linemen spent time huddled around a chalkboard.

Barnett used the time to teach his young position group, talking about what the Wolf Pack defense was doing and going through Iowa’s plans to counter that.

The hope was what they learned would translate into improvement once the game resumed.

"When you’ve got a delay, you’ve got to take full advantage of it," left tackle Mason Richman said.

Ferentz said the mid-game chalk talk made sense.

"That group is a little young so there is a lot going on there," Ferentz said. "It was a chance maybe for an extra session."

Richman describes Iowa’s offensive linemen as a group that is eager to learn and understands that it has room to improve as the Hawkeyes move into Big Ten play.

"There is plenty of chemistry in the room," Richman said. "That’s never been an issue. Bad plays, good plays, guys are there for each other. There’s a lot of young guys in our group and I feel like there is a sense that we’re in it together."

A 6-foot-6, 308-pound redshirt sophomore, Richman has started at left tackle 12 times in the 15 games he has played for Iowa.

Among offensive linemen, only sophomore Connor Colby has more career starts for the Hawkeyes. Colby has 14 career starts, the last three at right tackle after playing at a guard spot last season as a freshman.

While Richman and Colby have solidified their roles, the three interior spots remain a little fluid three games into the season.

Some of that is a byproduct of youth.

This week’s two-deep roster on the offensive line includes two senior reserves, Jack Plumb and Matt Fagan and a junior in starting left guard Nick DeJong.

The rest are underclassmen, sophomore starters in center Logan Jones, Richman and Colby, sophomore back-up guard and center Tyler Elsbury and three redshirt freshmen, starting right guard Beau Stephens and back-ups Gennings Dunker at a guard spot and Michael Myslinski at center.

Stephens, Elsbury and Dunker have been rotating at the guard spots along with DeJong, a 12-game starter.

The hope is that starters will emerge with consistency in performance, but for now, Ferentz calls it "open competition."

Elsbury has also been seeing practice time with Jones and Myslinski at center as Iowa seeks greater consistency there as Jones adjusts to a position he has never played before at the college level.

"We’ve had some glitches in the first three games and that’s just newness," Ferentz said. "It’s not a veteran battery, if you will. A little bit of newness there that hopefully we’re working through."

Ferentz said Richman has been the most consistent of the group, but did miss time in the preseason because of injury.

"Every day has been a little different. We’ve been using a lot of different combinations," Ferentz said. "… We’re trying to find the right combo."

Richman believes the group has made progress from one game to the next during the Hawkeyes’ 2-1 start to the season, and Ferentz agrees.

Collectively, Richman feels a rhythm developing.

"I knew it was not going to be easy at the start. It never is because you start going against other guys," he said. "Guys like me, the young guys, we all start to tighten up a little and maybe play too aggressive just because you want to go out and hit somebody on the other team."

With time and additional snaps, Richman believes the necessary cohesion will develop.

He knows Iowa must take another step forward against Rutgers, which is off to a 3-0 start in part because of a defense which ranks second nationally in defending the run.

The Scarlet Knights have allowed just 32.2 yards per game on the ground.

Richman said the Rutgers defensive line reminds him of the Iowa defensive front in how well they hold their gaps.

"The key for us is to just play our game," Richman said. "We need to keep working to take another step this week."

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IOWA CITY — Lightning from passing thunderstorms led to multiple delays in Saturday night’s Iowa football game against Nevada and prompted the evacuation of seating areas at Kinnick Stadium.

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