Spring Central: Offensive talk starts with the line

April 15, 2009

Kinnick Stadium Turf Renovation (April 15) | Football Coordinator Press Conference

IOWA CITY, Iowa — When Ken O’Keefe speaks about the performance of the University of Iowa offense, the conversation usually focuses on the offensive line.

“The offensive line is where everything begins and ends for us, it always has and we don’t see that ever changing, especially with our style of play,” O’Keefe said Tuesday at a media conference in the player’s auditorium of the Hayden Fry Football Complex. “You better have some guys up front if you’re going to move the football, especially with the way we play.”

The way the Hawkeye offense played last season was quite balanced. While Iowa was enjoying a 9-4 record and a 31-10 victory in the Outback Bowl, the offense averaged 188.69 yards per game on the ground (26th in the nation) and 181.7 yards through the air (90th in the nation).

O’Keefe, the UI offensive coordinator, said that after 12 spring practices there has been `a lot of great competition on the field.’

“That’s really what spring’s all about to a large degree,” he said. “Our players are focused. The younger players are more focused on learning the system and everybody’s focused on trying to get better at their position and really improving fundamentally. At the same time, you try to build some chemistry as an offensive unit.”

The offensive line is not only the key to Hawkeye success, but it is also where several spring success stories are unfolding. The first is mammoth 6-foot-6, 300-plus pound Dace Richardson, who has overcome several injuries to land as a co-starter at left guard.

“First of all, we’ve seen Dace, which is outstanding,” O’Keefe said. “It’s great to have him back…he’s missed a lot of football and fought his way back from a tough situation, but his attitude has been extremely positive. I’ve been surprised how easily he’s fit into some of the things we’ve asked him to do up front with all the time he’s had away from football. You can’t underestimate that time and Dace has really done a nice job.”

Adam Gettis, a 6-4, 280-pound sophomore from Frankfurt, Ill., cracked the two-deep at right guard.

“You want to learn what it’s like to play as a pro, Iowa is a great place to be. Now kids who come to play for us are going to have a chance to play for one of the legendary coaches in college football — never mind one of the most-respected. That’s the kind of opportunity young guys will have when they come here. I see that was being a real positive.”
UI offensive coordinator
Ken O’Keefe

“He’s one guy who has really come on and played well this spring,” O’Keefe said. “He’s a physical guy, very good fundamentally and just has a knack for doing things. (Offensive line coach) Reese (Morgan) has done a good job with this young guy.”

Listed in front of Gettis as co-starters are Julian Vandervelde and Dan Doering.

O’Keefe also spoke highly of sophomore Markus Zusevics and freshman Riley Reiff.

Six starters return for the Iowa offense — tackle Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway, Vandervelde, wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, quarterback Ricky Stanzi and fullback Brett Morse. Linemen Rafael Eubanks and Andy Kuempel, fullback Wade Leppert and wide receiver Trey Stross were part-time starters.

O’Keefe said Stanzi has continued to build distance between backup signal-callers James Vandenberg and John Wienke. Taking care of the ball is a top priority for Stanzi as he gears up for his second season as a starter.

“When we took care of the football on offense — especially when the quarterback took care of the football — some good things happened,” O’Keefe said. “For us to be successful as a unit, (Stanzi’s) got to do that.”

O’Keefe was asked if the success of Doak Walker Award-winning running back Shonn Greene would aid recruiting.

“You want to learn what it’s like to play as a pro, Iowa is a great place to be,” O’Keefe said. “Now kids who come to play for us are going to have a chance to play for one of the legendary coaches in college football — never mind one of the most-respected. That’s the kind of opportunity young guys will have when they come here. I see that was being a real positive.”

It was released this morning that the Hawkeyes will play three prime-time games under the lights this season. Spring practice No. 13 for Iowa was a second night practice Wednesday, also under the lights.

2009 Iowa Football Season Ticket Application (v3a)