By Adam Hensley
Following James Daniels’ decision to declare for the NFL Draft, Iowa football didn’t have to look far for a replacement center.
The Hawkeyes turned to Keegan Render, who currently is the No. 1 center on Iowa’s spring depth chart.
“I actually went and had a conversation with Coach [Tim] Polasek, telling him, ‘If you think it’s the best thing for the team, I’m more than willing to switch over to center,” Render said. “Me and James are good friends … talking to him about it, he gives me pointers here and there. That helped to smooth the transition a little bit, too.”
Render started at center in Iowa’s season-opener, a 24-3 win over Wyoming, on Sept. 2, 2017 in Kinnick. From there, he bounced around at right and left guard throughout the season (four games at right, seven games at left).
The Indianola native also played in every game in 2016, with seven starts at left guard and one at right guard.
The senior touched on his lone start at center last season, describing it as the main reason he’s comfortable with the transition into the coming season was getting those live, in-game reps at his new position. That made it so that he was not thrown into the fire this season.
One thing Render is bracing for this season is opposing defensive coordinators throwing blitzes at Iowa’s offensive line, something that happened quite often last season.
At center, he’s in charge of recognizing defensive fronts and anticipating blitzes or which gaps the defenders will shoot.
“If Tristan [Wirfs] goes to the wrong guy, that’s not on him. If I made the wrong call, that’s on me,” he said. “It’s just bigger picture than when you’re not playing center. You [have] to know everybody’s responsibility.”
New season, more experience
Last season, aside from Matt VandeBerg, no Hawkeye receiver had caught a pass in a live, Division-1 game heading into spring ball. Meanwhile, Nate Stanley took over the starting quarterback job under then-new offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.
Now, as all key players in the passing game return (minus VandeBerg), there’s a different feel heading into this season — there’s a stronger relationship between the quarterback and his receivers, and those returning, seasoned Hawkeyes are ready to step up from first-year starters into leaders.
“I feel more comfortable in my role,” receiver Nick Easley said. “Coming into spring, I feel like I got to be a leader. Last spring this time, I was just coming into the program. It’s a lot different.”
Whereas Easley came into last season with two season of junior-college ball before Iowa, two other receivers, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith, came into last year with no experience at any level.
Throughout the offseason, their progression in particular stands out.
“They continue to get better every single day. They have a great attitude, and they come to work every single day,” Stanley said. “They’re both getting more physical as we continue to train in the weight room. They’re learning how to play at this level, and they’ve done a great job so far of adapting to the higher expectations they’ve had on them so far.”