Potentially Solid

April 18, 2011

University of Iowa Practice Photo Gallery (April 16) | Video from April 16

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — You’ve heard the expression, “toe the line,” but for University of Iowa football, the offensive “line will tow” the program to continued success in 2011.

That’s the plan, anyway. The offensive line entered spring camp as the most experienced position group on the team with returning starters Riley Reiff (junior, left tackle), James Ferentz (junior, center), Markus Zusevics (senior, right tackle) and part-time starter Adam Gettis (senior, right guard).

“We have the potential to be solid up there, but we’re going to need to be,” said UI head coach Kirk Ferentz following the final spring practice Saturday inside Kinnick Stadium. “We’re going to need that to be the strength of our football team.”

Reiff was named second team all-Big Ten by coaches and media after his sophomore season when the Hawkeyes finished 8-5, defeated four top 24 teams and won the Insight Bowl, 27-24, over a Missouri squad with 10 wins.

Iowa’s offensive front is as deep as it is experienced. Redshirt freshman Brandon Scherff is listed as a starter at left guard and he is backed up by sophomore Drew Clark. Other back-ups are junior Matt Tobin (left tackle), sophomore Conor Bofelli (center), senior Woody Orne (right guard) and sophomore Brett Van Sloten (right tackle). Nolan MacMillan was named to numerous all-freshman teams, but he isn’t on the two-deep yet because he is recovering from what Ferentz calls “orthopedic issues.”

“We definitely have a good group of guys,” Reiff said. “We also have a lot of good younger guys and they’re working hard. It’s an exciting group of offensive linemen.”

“We have the potential to be solid up there, but we’re going to need to be. We’re going to need that to be the strength of our football team.”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz

With a solid offensive line coming back, the Hawkeyes should expect to improve on the 225.6 passing yards and 120.6 rushing yards they averaged per game a year ago. Also returning are offensive skilled weapons Marvin McNutt at wide receiver (53 catches, 861 yards, eight touchdowns) and running back Marcus Coker (622 rushing yards, 5.5 yards per carry). Iowa will have a new starting signal-caller, James Vandenberg, who, by all accounts, had an impressive spring.

“We love blocking for all those guys, but when you have a guy back there who works as hard as (Vandenberg) does, it’s definitely easier to block for him,” James Ferentz said. “Now that we have more experience, the more you progress, the higher the bar has to keep being raised for the group so our expectations keep rising as well. If we don’t have high expectations, we can’t have great results.”

“We’re the most experienced group offensively, so we have to set the tone, set the example,” Zusevics said. “We have to keep holding ourselves to that high standard; we can’t digress from last year. We have to keep improving where we left off.”

The last time we saw the Iowa offensive line, it was opening holes in the Insight Bowl to the tune of 230 rushing yards and keeping a celebrated Missouri defensive front away from quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi threw for 200 yards and was not sacked.

Although the final spring practice Saturday wasn’t one of the best for the Hawkeye linemen — too many holding penalties and exchange problems for coach Ferentz — the future is bright in the trenches.

“That group will be fine, but they’re not there by any stretch,” Ferentz said. “All those guys have experience and they’re capable of getting better.”

Hawkeye Football Participates in `Day of Caring’

Several University of Iowa football players, under the direction of Chigozie Ejiasi, director of player development, participated in the Day of Caring service project Sunday, April 17. Click HERE to view a photo gallery.