Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t tempering expectations for junior Sean Welsh.
Last week, before the Hawkeyes opened spring practice, Ferentz praised Welsh for grading out last season as well as any player in the program.
Iowa’s most versatile offensive lineman, Welsh started 12 games at left guard and two at right tackle. As a redshirt freshman one year earlier, he started seven times at left guard and twice at right guard.
This spring, the depth chart lists Welsh atop the heap at right guard and center while sophomore James Daniels sits with an injury.
Surely Welsh doesn’t play both positions at the same time?
“We make a living off players like that -- really that type of guy,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz added of Welsh, “I hate to throw this out, because I don’t want to start this train going,” but Welsh reminds the coach of ex-Iowa star Marshal Yanda -- five-time Pro Bowl lineman with the Baltimore Ravens.
“Whatever we asked Marshal to do when he was here, he did it pretty well,” Ferentz said. “Sean’s like that. Wherever we move him, he seems to handle it really well. He’s not 6-[foot]-6 and 440 pounds or any of that stuff, but he’s just a really good football player.”
Welsh is the new leader of an Iowa offensive line that lost standouts Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh but returns five players with starting experience from a 12-2 Rose Bowl squad. Much will be expected of the Hawkeyes in 2016.
ESPN.com caught up with Welsh on Wednesday. Here’s what he had to say about all of it.
ESPN: What do you think of what your head coach said about you this spring?
Welsh: It’s an honor, especially coming from a guy like that. I turn the credit toward [the coaching staff]. They’ve given me the opportunity. And just to be mentioned in the same sentence with [Yanda], the guy’s a legend around here, especially with the offensive linemen. The biggest thing, though, is whoever that compliment comes from, you can use it to motivate you. What I try to do is block out all noise, because it can lead to complacency.
What’s the secret to your versatility on the offensive line?
Welsh: A lot of that has to do with [offensive-line] coach Brian [Ferentz]. He wants everyone to be able to adapt and compete. Positions change, and there are some differences. But a lot of what we do, it doesn’t change from position to position. If you can understand the bigger picture about a defense, the patterns are the same everywhere.
When are you going to try left tackle?
Welsh: That’s not my decision. It would be cool to say I played all five positions. I’ll go where they put me.
In a perfect world, what position would you play in the fall?
Welsh: It’s hard to make that call. I like center, but I also like guard. It’s kind of a tossup.
Iowa was fueled in 2015 by failures of the year prior. That source of motivation is gone. What’s the biggest difference about the offseason dynamic of your next team?
Welsh: The biggest point this year is to build off last season. We try to pull any lessons that we can, but we’re not looking back. Our No. 1 goal around here is to win a Big Ten championship. We didn’t do that. So we need to take what we did last year and move it a step further.
Out of Springboro, Ohio, you missed Iowa’s trip to Ohio State in 2013 while redshirting and won’t get the chance to go back, though the Buckeyes are scheduled to visit Kinnick Stadium in 2017, your senior year. What might that game mean to you?
Welsh: Growing up in southwestern Ohio, my entire childhood until I was getting recruited, we were Buckeye fans. My mom went to vet school at OSU. But I try to treat every game like any other. Things slip when you direct more attention to one opponent. But yeah, I’d relish the opportunity to play them.
What did you do for spring break?
Welsh: Went down to Gulf Shores, Alabama, with some friends for a couple days. The weather was beautiful. It was a great place to hang out, just to be there with a few teammates. We threw the football around the beach and got some good seafood.
This summer, what are your plans?
Welsh: I took summer school my first two years here, so I’ve got a lot of space to work with. We’re just going to be training, and then hopefully I’ll get to play a little golf.
How’s your golf game?
Welsh: Eh. They make it look so easy. It definitely shows me how much I need to work on my flexibility.