Conor Boffeli is the classic "program" player. You don't notice him until he's there.
The 6-5, 295-pounder from West Des Moines spent his first two seasons at Iowa as a mop-up time backup. The outside world doesn't necessarily see the improvement a "program" player makes. His Saturday is every day in practice, every day in the weight room. You can't celebrate the progress, because it's not the kind of thing that gets on TV or played in front of 70,000 at Kinnick Stadium.
When Andrew Donnal went down with a torn ACL against Penn State last year, Iowa sorted through available guards. Nolan MacMillan and Jordan Walsh took shots. Boffelli, who played most of his career at center behind James Ferentz, finally got the call in week 9 against Purdue.
He found himself opposite Purdue DT Kawan Short, a second-round draft pick by the Carolina Panthers last April. He lost some, he won some. Boffeli finished the season as the starter at left guard and finds himself No. 1 there on the depth chart going into August.
Key 2012 factor: It's too early to tell, but when a program player finally breaks through as a starter, his confidence grows, he digs in and he keeps that job. Boffeli might have had that sort of breakthrough last fall. Boffeli played in the waning moments of just six games going into his starting stretch at the end of last season. That's a tremendous break through and one that should propel Boffeli into 2013.
Offseason factor: In both of Iowa's public spring appearances, Boffeli started at left guard. His weight is up five pounds. He's a fifth-year senior, so he has five weightroom years behind him. Offensive line is a position where there wasn't a huge overhaul during the offseason. Brian Ferentz is back for his second season as OL coach. Iowa signed a pair of potential inside OL (Colin Goebel, Sean Welsh), but they figure to redshirt. Iowa did lose James Ferentz, a three-year starter at center. That will lead to a learning curve for the inside blockers.
Competition: The one caveat for Boffeli is the fact that it took a lot of jumbling at the guard position last season before he got his shot. Walsh, MacMillan and Donnal saw the field before Boffeli got the call. Right now going into August camp, Donnal is listed as the No. 2 at left tackle. Walsh is No. 1 at right guard. MacMillan is No. 3 at left tackle. Let's not forget the Iowa motto "best five," which might put redshirt freshman Ryan Ward in the mix for a guard spot. Boffeli won't be handed anything, and that's something, as a program player who's fought to get to the top, he knows acutely.
Why No. 23?: Offensive line is pretty much the consensus for Iowa's top position group. That automatically elevates all five starters. If Boffeli loses the job in camp, then, yeah, he's a bit high here at 23. Going in though, he fits here. If he ends up as a No. 3 guard, that would probably push him into the high 30s. There are lots of possibilities for Iowa's O-line. The only things set in stone are tackles Brandon Scherff and Brett Van Sloten.
Outlook: You could argue that no other Iowa player has climbed as many bodies to get to No. 1 than Boffeli. Well, the QB will have climbed over a few, but this is year 5, do or die, for Boffeli. All systems go, so far. He'll need a big camp to hold on and fight off the competition, the biggest of which might end up being Ward.Click here for an interactive look at the complete Top 45 series.