Lots of predictions for greatness this preseason with Iowa’s offensive line.
The Hawkeyes have returning starters at tackle. Right tackle Brett Van Sloten, a Decorah native, is he veteran of the group. And this is where, perhaps, it gets kind of sketchy.
Van Sloten (6-7, 300) has 12 career starts. Before last season, when he started every game, he played about 3/4s of the 2011 Insight Bowl when former Hawkeye RT Markus Zusevics suffered from stomach flu. All totaled, Iowa’s starting OL, at least going into August camp, has 28 career starts among the five of them. Middle linebacker James Morris has 29 career starts.
OL coach Brian Ferentz pointed this out in February.
“We have 16 players with us right now in [the OL, 15 after Drew Clark's departure last week],” Ferentz said. “Out of those 16, seven of them redshirted last season, nine of them did not. Out of those nine, every one of those guys has played a snap, at least, for us, in a competitive situation. Seven of them have started ballgames, but I think those numbers are a little misleading.
“. . . So there is some experience there, but it’s not a total wealth of experience, and once you get past that, you’re dealing, out of the next nine guys, seven of them were not even eligible to play in a football game for us last season. So, it’s kind of a tale of two cities plus a suburb with Brett.”
That’s Van Sloten. Here’s what Ferentz had to offer on him: “Really what we are dealing with is we have one guy coming back who has played significant time for us at a high level and that’s Brett Van Sloten, and he’s a guy I think can do a lot better for us in the future and I think he can agree with that statement.”
Key 2012 factor: Van Sloten entered the circle of trust. Since he was tapped to jump into the ’11 Insight Bowl, it seemed as though he as on the fast track to a starting spot. The competition for him might’ve been Nolan MacMillan, but injuries have kept his career in a three-point stance.
Van Sloten wears the position well. He’s the unquestioned guy, even though his coach would like to see more out of him (that’s coaches in a nutshell, though, right?). And, don’t get Brian Ferentz wrong. He wasn’t ranting. Here’s another question about Van Sloten from the same interview.
“I describe Brett this way: For a guy who had never started a football game here and really only played excessively in the second half of one [Insight Bowl '11], he plays like a guy that has a lot of experience,” Brian Ferentz said. “He plays more experience than he is. He’s extremely reliable.
“We talk about consistency. He’s a guy that plays at a level of consistency. He’s got a long way to go, he can still improve a great deal but he’s a guy who is doing everything we ask at all times and doing it to the level we expect. There’s nothing I can say about Brett that’s not positive, at least not behind closed doors with him.”
Offseason factor: You probably won’t find a college football player more pragmatic than Van Sloten. During the Big Ten media days, he was open about what he can do and what he needs to work on.
“I understand my strengths and weaknesses,” he said. “One is I’m not as speedy as some. Do I fit the mold [of a prototypical Iowa kid and Iowa kid O-lineman], that’s probably a better question for coach Ferentz. The ultimate goal is to be that guy or one of those guys that fits the mold. You’re looking to live up to those expectations, but at the same time, you’re looking to have fun with it, too.”
Van Sloten’s head is where it needs to be. He’s not satisfied and possess the bushels of Iowa earnestness that will nudge him along when it’s hot and muggy in August camp.
Competition: Van Sloten is right up there with Scherff, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz and LBs James Morris and Christian Kirksey as far as locks go. Two factors could intervene, one is more realistic than the other.
1) Redshirt freshman Ryan Ward ignites. He probably wouldn’t do enough to overtake Van Sloten, but Ward could punch his way into the lineup on the inside (if that’s even an option, he’s been a tackle pretty much his whole time at Iowa).
2) Senior Nolan MacMillan stays healthy and regains the form that pushed him into the starting lineup (right guard) as a redshirt freshman in 2010. Remember, MacMillan sat out spring with an undisclosed injury.
Why No. 13?: We make a big deal out of Iowa’s left tackle position (it is a big deal), but let’s see how far back we can go with right tackles who’ve made the NFL.
Markus Zusevics (2010-11) is a Patriot. Kyle Calloway (2007-09) was a seventh-round pick with the Buffalo Bills (he didn’t stick). Marshal Yanda and Seth Olsen played the position in 2006. They’re still in the NFL. It was Yanda in ’05. Pete McMahon played it in ’04. He was drafted in the sixth round by the Raiders in ’05 and played with four other teams through 2008. In ’03, Sam Aiello eventually signed a free-agent deal with the Bears. The 2001-02 RT David Porter signed with the Colts as a free agent.
Let’s stop there. Everyone who’s played RT for the Hawkeyes since 2001 has had a chance to make the league.
Outlook: Van Sloten will have his chance to make the league.