By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Kevin Miller wasn’t surprised to learn that Tyler Linderbaum had switched from defensive tackle to center for the Iowa football team.
It was almost as if Miller saw the move coming.
“In my opinion, that’s his position,” Miller said Thursday. I really believe that.”
Miller’s opinion in this case carries a lot of weight since he coached Linderbaum in football for four years at Solon High School.
Linderbaum played both center and defensive tackle for the Spartans and stood out on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
And even though Linderbaum was recruited by Iowa as a defensive lineman and played that position throughout the regular season, Miller still thought Linderbaum had more upside at center.
And now the Iowa coaches apparently feel the same way as Kirk Ferentz confirmed the position switch on Wednesday. Ferentz then explained why the switch was made as Iowa prepares to face Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day in Tampa, Fla.
“First point I'll make is he was really doing well on defense,” Ferentz said. “But part of my job is to look down the road, and I've been doing that for a while. Just really over the past two and a half months, just kind of thinking about different scenarios about what it's going to look like next year, and what I kept coming back to was I think that we really had a little bit of a void at the center position.”
The fact that Ferentz would turn to Linderbaum is telling, especially since Linderbaum wasn’t struggling on defense, according to Ferentz.
Iowa needs help at one of the most important positions on the team and Ferentz is asking a freshman defensive lineman to fill the void instead of moving a current offensive lineman to center.
That speaks volumes about Linderbaum's potential and about the trust that Ferentz has in Linderbaum.
Senior Keegan Render has started at center throughout the season, with sophomore Cole Banwart and senior Dalton Ferguson providing depth at that position.
Banwart would appear to be the leading candidate to start at center next season, unless Linderbaum proves to be a fast learner.
Banwart then could shift to guard where he also has playing experience.
Either way, the 6-foot-2, 270-pound Linderbaum is now playing the position that best suits his skill set according to Miller.
“He’s just your prototype center, honestly,” Miller said. “He’s athletic. He’s quick. He’s smart. He plays with great leverage and pad level. And I think the key to playing center is being a good athlete, honestly, and being smart.
“He’s making a lot of the line calls and I think he has a great football sense. But more importantly, he’s a great athlete. So that’s what they look for in their center, somebody who can move their feet, and obviously, kind of direct the offensive line. He’s a great leader, so it’s just a natural, honestly. I think that’s his home, and I thought that going in.”
Linderbaum was a multi-sport athlete in high school where he divided his time between football, wrestling, track and field and baseball. He was a star in all four sports, in addition to being a leader in all four sports.
Linderbaum made quite an impression on Ferentz when he played high school baseball as a senior despite also having to meet the demands for the incoming freshmen on the Iowa football team.
Linderbaum would often play baseball late into the evening and then have to be in the Iowa weight room before sunrise the next morning.
“Not many guys would do that,” Ferentz said. “Most guys would have said, okay, I'm not playing baseball this year.”
Linderbaum isn’t like most guys, and that’s why Ferentz is depending on him to help strengthen a key position.
“He's really done a nice job,” Ferentz said. “He started that a couple weeks back, and he really doesn't know everything yet, obviously, and there's a lot you learn. But he's off to a really good start, and I think the toughest part about it is now we're taking a good player off our defense, but just kind of felt like that was something we had to address going in before we got to January.”
Linderbaum has always had a team-first mentality, according to Miller, and this position switch is another example of that.
“He to me epitomizes what it means to be a team player,” Miller said. “You invest a whole year in becoming a defensive lineman, you learn the nuances, the techniques, the fundamentals that apply to that position, and then all of the sudden that goes all out the window after a year, and now you’re an offensive lineman, which there is stark difference between the offensive line and defensive line in how you play.”
Miller thinks Linderbaum’s experience as a defensive lineman could be beneficial at center.
“He played center for us and he had a really good understanding of what’s going on,” Miller said. “And I think being a defensive lineman is advantageous for playing center. Obviously, he knows how they play with the hand technique and the fundamentals that they utilize as defensive linemen. So he knows the importance of being an offensive lineman and what types of strategies and techniques will serve him well.”
And though he just recently made the switch to center, it could prove to be a gateway to opportunity for Linderbaum, who is currently being redshirted this season as a true freshman.
Iowa has a strong tradition at center with two former Hawkeye centers, James Daniels and Austin Blythe, now performing well in the NFL for the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams, respectively.
Kirk Ferentz’s son, James Ferentz, also played center for Iowa and is currently a backup center for the New England Patriots.
“All you have to do is look down the road at what’s happened the last four or five years,” Miller said. “Here’s James Daniels, who’s with Bears. You look at Austin Blythe who’s with the Rams. They were both centers.
“So to me, if I’m Tyler I’m thinking that’s a move I’d been willing to make looking not only short term, but long term and my future. Now there’s a lot of things that need to happen, but you look at some of the people who have played center and where they’re at now, it lends itself to making that switch.”