The offensive line is the thing for Iowa football from now until Sept. 4.
During Saturday’s spring scrimmage, from left, it went tackle Riley Reiff, guard Julian Vandervelde, center James Ferentz, guard Adam Gettis and tackle Markus Zusevics.
“He’s doing awesome,” Reiff said of Zusevics. “He’s out there competing everyday and doing a good job from what I can tell.”
That’s three new faces (Ferentz, Gettis and Zusevics) and a certain level of uncertainty. Coach Kirk Ferentz said six players have settled in, including center Josh Koeppel, who was slowed during spring by an ankle injury.
“Those six guys have made good progress and I think some of the other guys are coming along,” coach Ferentz said. “But that’s clearly an area where we really have to keep our foot on the gas.”
Second O-line Saturday, from left to right, was tackle Matt Tobin, guard Conor Boffeli, center Koeppel, guard Cody Hundertmark and tackle Woody Orne.
Boffeli and Hundertmark have earned some praise from Ferentz and offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe this spring.
Noticeably absent are the 300-plus pounders Iowa boasted across the front last season. Tackles Bryan Bulaga (312) and Kyle Calloway (320) and guard Dace Richardson (320) all fit that bill. Is that a big deal?
“No, I don’t think so,” chuckled Reiff, who started 11 games as a redshirt freshman last season. “We’ve just got to play smart, but we miss those big guys, that’s for sure.”
Indeed, during Saturday’s scrimmage, Iowa’s O-line faced a mix of No. 2 D-linemen during the timed portion and the offense ran what it usually runs — a few bootlegs, some quick passes and a mix of zone and inside running plays.
“As an offensive line, we’re going to run the ball and protect the quarterbacks,” Reiff said. “That’s what they expect here at Iowa and that’s what we’re going to give them.”
Everyone is looking at the O-line. Is there pressure?
“Yeah, kind of,” Reiff said, “but you’ve got to block it out and go to work everyday. You’ve got to stick to your fundamentals and your assignments and whatever happens, happens.”
By the way, Reiff is the O-lineman who goes against DE Adrian Clayborn everyday in practice.
“Yeah, it’s a treat,” Reiff said. “It’s an honor to go against him. It can only make you better.”
A look at the rest of the team:
Quarterback – Ricky Stanzi showed a nice touch in the spring game. He’s always had an accurate arm. He basically had what was a regular first quarter for him last season, completing 7 of 9 for 72 yards and no interceptions. Decision making is the thing with Stanzi. Stanzi and O’Keefe are aware of it. Sophomore James Vandenberg is the clear No. 2. John Wienke is the clear No. 3. A.J. Derby likely will redshirt this year.
Running back – Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher and Jewel Hampton didn’t participate in the spring game, so where they stand is a mystery. They’ll be competing for 30 to 35 carries a game. We’ll find out in August. Brad Rogers rushed 12 times for 35 yards in the spring scrimmage before suffering a mild sprain to the left ankle. Sophomore Jason White may or may not stick at RB. Ferentz said they want to do what makes the most sense for him. Fullback is Brett Morse. Jacob Reisen showed some burst running vs. the third-team defense.
Wide receiver – Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt remain Nos. 1 and 1. Colin Sandeman and Keenan Davis continue to battle at No. 3. Nothing decided there. Davis did get work at both SE and WR this spring, so that could mean that coaches are serious about getting him on the field somewhere and somewhere soon. The more he knows, the more versatile he can be. Senior Don Nordmann led all receivers in the scrimmage with five catches for 49 yards.
Tight end — We covered that pretty well here. It’s something that has Ferentz’s attention. He seems to like Brad Herman (3 for 29 Saturday), but it feels as though he’s still looking here. He’s not looking for true frosh C.J. Fiedorowicz to save the day, but he will get a look. Senior Allen Reisner is your No. 1.
Defensive line — Barring injury, this is Iowa’s best unit. If there is an injury, there’s junior tackle Mike Daniels (watched him vs. OL in 1-on-1s, he’s a tank) and junior end Lebron Daniel. After those two, you’re dipping into developmental types. DT Steve Bigach wasn’t dressed for the scrimmage. Redshirt freshman Dominic Alvis is promising, but still a little light. Maybe a year away from seeing PT, which is right on schedule.
Linebacker — Covered this here. You have to be impressed by the rise of senior Jeff Tarpinian. He started the spring No. 2 OLB and five practices in he won the No. 1 MLB spot. He’s big, rangy and very smart. WLB Jeremiha Hunter will be a third-year starter. Junior Tyler Nielsen seems to have locked down OLB. This unit has experience and will be playing behind a terrific D-line. Yes, there will be dropoff from the Angerer-Edds era, but probably not as much as you think.
Secondary – Sophomore Micah Hyde made a huge play in the scrimmage. No. 2 QB James Vandenberg led a 12-play drive that started at the offense’s 19 and went to a third-and-6 at the D’s 25. Hyde, 6-1, 185, blitzed and batted down Vandenberg’s pass to force a 42-yard field goal by Daniel Murray. It feels as though he’s going to be the No. 1 right corner next fall. Junior Shaun Prater is settled at the other corner. Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood’s shoulders will be ready for fall. Iowa also has nice depth here.
Specialists — We covered kicker pretty well here. Between senior Daniel Murray and sophomore Trent Mossbrucker, there has got to be a field goal kicker. Long and short platoon? There has got to be a field goal kicker. The kickoff job will have some competition to it. Mike Meyer, a walk-on from Dubuque Wahlert, and grayshirt prospect Jonny Mullings will be on campus. They have good credentials and could provide an upgrade. This bears watching. Your punter is Ryan Donahue. Saturday, he had boots of 53 and 50 yards.