Position Battles: Offensive Line

June 22, 2010

Written by Jon Miller

Hawkeye Nation

Iowa’s reputation for reloading at the offensive line position may get severely tested this season. Iowa will return two starters- Senior Julian Vandervelde and Sophomore Riley Reiff. They must replace NFL draft choices Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway at the tackle positions. The interior is losing the very productive, if injury plagued, Dace Richardson along with center Rafael Eubanks.

The good news is that the line up seems to be fairly settled and they performed above expectations this spring.

Reiff looks natural transitioning to the all important Left Tackle spot and may have actually been more consistent there last season than Bulaga. Vandervelde is looking to go out with a bang and a fully healthy season lining up next to Reiff at Left Guard.

The bad news is that Vandervelde’s twenty-four starts are more than the rest of the offensive line roster combined. The only other player to start a game as a Hawkeye is Adam Gettis who started the first game last season versus UNI. James Ferentz and Josh Koeppel are battling for the Center spot while Markus Zusevic’s solid spring put him in the driver’s seat heading into fall camp at the Right Tackle position. Those four player’s career starts total one.

Iowa runs a base zone blocking scheme that depends on intelligence, chemistry and athletic ability more than size and brawn. That is probably a good thing because Iowa will be trotting out a much smaller line no matter who ends up taking the majority of snaps this season.

While the Hawk’s do mix in some traditional run blocking the zone schemes are the heart and soul of Iowa’s rushing attack and what make the play action passing game so effective. Last season Iowa struggled with blitz pick up and especially zone blitzes. I was very encouraged with both the first and the second team’s performance in that phase of the spring drills. That doesn’t mean everything will be ironed out when an opponent is on the field but I do think that this was acknowledged as something to work on and addressed. Overall this is a very athletic group that should excel in forming a pocket for Stanzi.

Ferentz has been quoted over and over that he wants to find “the best five” and let them jell; play together long enough to work as one unit. I think that last season’s O-line will go down as one of the most individually talented, but snake-bitten units in Iowa history. That unit was never healthy even in Fall Camp. It dealt with multiple injuries to multiple players, a suspension, and shuffling positions to deal with the constant upheaval. If this season’s unit can settle upon a starting five by the week of the ISU game and stay relatively healthy for most of the season I think it can outperform last season’s even without the same amount of talent.

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I am going to list a sort of preliminary 3 deep with the caveat that most of these players can play multiple positions. I think that Koeppel will battle for the starting center position, but that he may be too small to play guard. Haganman, MacMillan, Orne, and Hundertmark all have the potential to push for time at either guard position or right tackle. I think the Riser of this unit will be Conor Boffeli. He is certainly a player to watch in 2011 and beyond.
*Bold returning starter

LT:77 Riley Reiff SO…………..76 Nolan MacMillan R.FR……………60 Matt Tobin SO/78 Andrew Donnal T.FR

LG:63 Julian Vandervelde SR….69 Kyle Haganman SR………………50 Drew Clark R.FR

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C:53 James Ferentz SO……….67 Josh Koeppel SR………………….59 Conor Boffeli

RG:73 Adam Gettis JR…………64 Cody Hundertmark JR…………….66 Casey McMillan SO/68 B. Sherff T.FR

RT:56 Markus Zusevics JR……79 Woody Orne JR……………………70 Brett Van Sloten R.FR

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Here is a link to the Spring Game Wrap with evaluations of several of these guys:

http://www.hawkeyenation.com/football/the-breakdown-iowa-spring-practice

I am also hoping to provide one more update before Fall Camp begins with film notes of Vandervelde, Reiff, Gettis, Zusevics, Koeppel, and Ferentz.

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