Iowa O-line: The name on the back

Published: August 19 2010 | 3:46 pm - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 4:55 am in
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IOWA CITY -- This is the second time he's coached one of his boss' sons.

Iowa offensive line coach Reese Morgan chuckled before the question was half finished.

"Regardless of what the last name is . . ." he said.

Then, Morgan laid out all the positives of coaching Kirk Ferentz's sons. Tough, leader, confident. It can go the other way with the name on the back of the jersey, but Morgan kept listing the positives.

Extremely tough, aggressive. excellent football players.

Brian Ferentz paved the way. He was a three-year starter at center/guard for the Hawkeyes with a timeout after a staph infection nearly cost him a leg in 2004. He's now an offensive assistant for the New England Patriots.

"Brian Ferentz was a tremendous football player and probably the best leader we've ever had here, that I've ever had as a lineman," Morgan said. "Tremendous leader, knowledgeable guy. He overcame so much adversity."

The name on the back is the same, but there are a few differences.

"I'm not going to compare the guys," Morgan said.

OK, he listed one contrast.

"James' leadership quality is with the guys," Morgan said. "Around the adults, he's a little more subdued and Brian was a little more demonstrative."

As a third-year sophomore, James Ferentz is in a tight battle with senior Josh Koeppel for the center position. Judging off last week's open scrimmage, nothing has been decided.

"The competition with Josh is great," said James Ferentz, who started camp weighing in at 280. "I think it's really healthy for us as a line. The fact that we're still in a competition, I think that speaks volumes. It keeps us coming out everyday ensuring that we're going to give our best effort."

Koeppel said, sure, there's pressure to be perfect, but that pressure isn't coming from Morgan or Kirk Ferentz.

"James and I are putting the pressure on each other," Koeppel said. "We both make mistakes. You've just got to flush

each rep. If it's good, you have to flush it and go to the next one. If it's bad, you've got to flush it and go to the next one."

Instead of comparing and contrasting, James talked about how Brian has helped. With Brian's time commitments as a young coach, the communication isn't what James would like it to be, but when its there, he knows and respects the source.

"At times when I'm feeling bad and want to play the boo-hoo game, he's there to point me in the right direction and keep my focus where it needs to be," said James, who, like Koeppel, is a former all-stater from Iowa City High. "I'm really fortunate to have him as a mentor in my life. He's been really supportive in helping me in the right direction."

Morgan clicked off more positives.

When Brian Ferentz returned  from the staph infection in '04, he started eight games at guard, not his natural position, and the Hawkeyes won them all, including a Big Ten co-championship and the Capital One Bowl. Morgan said that wasn't a coincidence.

"It had less to do with his athletic ability and more to do with his leadership skills and the effect he had on the other guys," Morgan said.

Again, not a comparison or a contrast, but when talking James, Morgan used the phrase "plays with an edge."

Generally, this means the guy is a pain in the neck to the people lined up across from him.

"It's a toughness, a mentality, a demeanor," Morgan said. "It means I'm going to go out and I'm going to have a little bit of a physical edge that we like our guys to have. (Former Hawkeye and current Packer Bryan) Bulaga had it. When I say edge, that's a compliment. He's got an edge to it."

James laughed a little bit at the "edge" comment. Asked how he'd define it, he said, "I just try to go out and play and give my best and not let my teammates down. We have a bunch of great players on this team and you can't be selfish out here."

James Ferentz is still trying to break into the lineup. Exactly what advice does Brian offer?

"I guess what any coach would tell any center, snap and step. I wish it were that simple," James said with a laugh. "He loves coaching. We've all said that when we first started seeing Brian around football. He belongs coaching. He's a great coach, great teacher. He just conveys things so well to us as football players.

"It's a gift and it's a great thing to see him finally use it."

Right now, while he grinds away at camp before Iowa's season opener Sept. 4, James knows he can rely on the Ferentzes for guidance here and there.

He knows the "Ferentz" on the back of his jersey isn't going to win him anything.

"I just try to be another guy on the team," he said. "I think everybody else on this team sees that and there's no favoritism or anything like that. I'm just like any other guy out here trying to prove myself."


Depth Charting

LT -- Riley Reiff, so., 6-6, 300; Nolan MacMillan, fr., 6-6, 288

LG -- Julian Vandervelde, sr., 6-3, 300; Matt Tobin, 6-6, 285

C-- Josh Koeppel, sr., 6-2, 273 OR James Ferentz, so., 6-2, 275; Conor Boffeli, fr., 6-5, 285

RG-- Adam Gettis, jr., 6-4, 280; Cody Hundertmark, jr., 6-4, 285

RT-- Markus Zusevics, jr., 6-5, 295; Woody Orne, jr., 6-5, 295

In the huddle

Through nearly two weeks of fall camp, the new guys -- guard Adam Gettis and tackle Markus Zusevics -- have held their own. In fact, during the open scrimmage Aug. 14, coach Kirk Ferentzsaid about Gettis, "He’ll be one of the smallest guards in the league, I imagine, but I think he’ll be one of the better ones, too." . . . For all the noise about the 2010 O-line being smaller than the 2009 group, it boils down to less than 10 pounds per man with '09 weighing in at 299 per and this year's group coming in at 289.6. . . . In 2008, C Josh Koeppelsaw time as a blocking tight end in goal-line situations. He was an eligible receiver, but "I just remember, every time there was a pass, I'd just flop to the other side. It was a fun gig, though."

Numbers game

OK, the weight thing appears to be a wash, with 2009 outweighing 2010 by less than 10 pounds per man. One stat that might matter, however, is career starts. The Hawkeyes' O-line that started in the Orange Bowl combined for 138 career starts. Center Rafael Eubanks graduated with 38 career starts, followed by tackle/guard Kyle Calloway's 37. The 2010 O-line will begin the season with 36 starts, with guardJulian Vandervelde leading the way with 24. Tackle Riley Reiff has 11; guard Gettis started the opener last season. That's 138 to 36, if you're keeping score. Might mean something, might mean nothing.

The Iowa center talks about his relationship with his brother Brian, who started at center for the Hawkeyes in 2005. James likes the competition with senior Josh Koeppel. "I think the fact that we're still in a competition speaks volumes." He also weighed in at 280 before camp.

The Iowa center talks about his position battle with sophomore James Ferentz and the wisdom of having a beard in the heat of this summer. Actually, he's always had the beard, since high school.

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