Last season kind of ended in a blaze of glory for Brandon Scherff.
The pile fell on the back of his legs. Never a good thing. The injuries you don't see coming seem to be the ones that always cause the most damage. From the press box you could see the dislocated ankle. It would take an X-ray for the broken fibula to show up.
After the enormous left tackle had his leg adjusted and placed in an air cast, he looked up and noticed a dead Kinnick Stadium. Penn State was in the early stages of what ended up being a 38-14 mauling of the Hawkeyes, but Scherff is used to seeing a lively Kinnick. Even with his ankle twisted the wrong direction (no, really), Scherff started pumping his arms and yelling for the crowd to wake the bleep up.
He did this as the John Deere Gator revved and kicked into gear, taking Scherff up the tunnel, into the lockerroom and out for the season.
Clearly, Iowa has the right kind of maniac at left tackle.
The left tackle position is a throne of sorts on the Iowa football team. Some of the graduates from the position include Bruce Nelson (1999), Robert Gallery (2001-03), Marshal Yanda (2006), Bryan Bulaga (2008-09) and Riley Reiff (2010-11). Three of those five were first-round draft picks. Nelson was a second rounder in 2003. Yanda, a key cog on the Super Bowl champion Ravens' O-line last season, was a third rounder in 2007.
When coach Kirk Ferentz slides the keys to this position to you from across the desk, he's handing you a chance to play what is, without a doubt, Iowa's most successful position in the last 10 seasons.
Would you believe Scherff (6-5, 310) played quarterback at Denison High School? It's true. As a 270-pounder, he passed for 1,200 yards as a sophomore.
Iowa and Ferentz had a plan for him even then, when his recruitment began.
"I was getting recruited here for O-line and I didn't want to come in here and not know what I was doing," Scherff said. "Thought it was a pretty good choice to move there. I liked the whole concept, just going out there and hitting people."
Iowa has the right maniac for left tackle. Who knows what the future holds.
Key 2012 factor: The leg injuries were a huge setback for Scherff, who, to that point, was having a fine season. Iowa set loose an avalanche of O-linemen and Mark Weisman on Minnesota and cruised to a 31-13 victory. Iowa's win at Michigan State was an O-line grinder that perhaps only offensive linemen could appreciate.
Trailing in the fourth quarter against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field, on a third-and-a lot (I think it was 8 or 9), offensive coordinator Greg Davis called for a run to the left. Scherff pushed his man outside of the hashmarks, and running back Damon Bullock won a race to the pylon for a 23-yard TD that pushed Iowa to a narrow 18-17 victory.
So, 2012 was a little more than just the injury for Scherff. He bounced back quickly from the leg injuries, though. He participated in everything during spring practice.
"A big part of it is attitude; his attitude has been great," Ferentz said. "I joked about him being ready even with a boot on. He would have tried it. That's just the way he's built. He seems to be moving around really well."
Offseason factor: Scherff kept right on going building his body. At one point during his early years, Scherff was kind of a chubby 310 (by his own admission, believe me). He turned the tables and looked downright svelte in spring 2011.
Scherff understands what's at stake.
"I thought Brandon was really starting to understand what he could be as a football player last year towards the end of -- taking snaps, competing for us," O-line coach Brian Ferentz said. "Unfortunately he suffered a little setback, happens to a lot of guys. Unfortunately, it was not that serious. It looked worse than it probably was from a medical standpoint, so we were able to get him back.
"He’s a guy who would've been working with us if we had done what we should have done, he would have been working with us in December and probably would have had a chance to play in a postseason game. So, basically, he’s been back with us in full participation going back to the off-season program and really end of December, moving forward through January.
" So, he’s responding just as you would expect him to respond of the done a very nice job coming back from that but very, very long way to go as a football player from a consistency standpoint and doing the things we need him to do on every play that the football team needs out of him."
Competition: This position belongs to Scherff. He's Iowa's best O-linemen.
During media day, he promised to bring his teammates some catfish "next year." He recently caught a 40-pound flathead on the Iowa River. Wait, what? Next year?
I think he was being cagey there. I talked about the NFL question in Chicago with Kirk Ferentz. He bristled, but he answered the question with depth.
"For about 30 seconds [they talked NFL]. As you get down the road, if there’s a discussion to have, we’ll have it," Kirk Ferentz said. "It’s realistic to think that could happen. If he ends up in the same seat as Riley or Bryan, that’s a good seat to sit in. You can’t really make a bad decision. What I would say the challenge for him is to get in that seat. That’s the challenge."
Why No. 1?: Scherff is Iowa's best NFL prospect and, arguably, its best player.
NFL internet media already have him on the radar. No, that doesn't matter, not at all. What does matter is Kirk Ferentz said, "It's realistic to think that could happen." That matters.
We'll get off that topic now and maybe pull it out of the pocket much later in the season.
The fact is Scherff is Iowa's best player, playing what has been a throne during the Ferentz era. These things just don't happen by accident.
Outlook: What's a gauge for success for a left tackle?
Let's start with good, clean video. That would mean few or zero sacks allowed, probably a 1,200-yard rusher and maybe a certain yards per carry. Of course, those are team goals and one left tackle has very little control what happens on the other side of the OL and beyond.
Bottom line, if Scherff has a good season, Iowa's offense has probably had a good season. That's win-win, and after that, let the chips fall where they may (Bulaga and Reiff left a year early, just saying).Click here for an interactive look at the complete Top 45 series.