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Offensive line provides Hawkeyes with stability

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | AUGUST 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa football team will have a new starting quarterback, a new top running back, only one proven receiver, and a jumble of inexperience on the defensive line and in the secondary this season.

In the middle of all those question marks stands one certainty. Longtime Hawkeye fans know the story well: It's the offensive line.

Strong line play has been a staple of head coach Kirk Ferentz's Iowa teams. In the last three seasons, the Hawkeyes have landed 10 offensive lineman on the All-Big Ten first or second teams.

Last year at this time, the line was viewed as a potential weak link. It was one of the few inexperienced units on a loaded team coming off an Orange Bowl victory. But as much of the team went south last season, the offensive line performed steadily and consistently drew praise from coaches.

Four of the five line positions this season are relatively secure, and three of them feature returning starters. Hawkeye coaches are confident the unit will provide some stability.

"More [stability] than a year ago, for sure," Ferentz said on Aug. 5. "It's almost like a flip. Last year, we had a lot of experience coming back on the defensive line. This year, it's the other way around. [The] key thing for [the offensive linemen] to do is to keep doing what they did last year and improve every week."

Anchoring the line is junior left tackle Riley Reiff, who made the All-Big Ten second team last season, replacing the current Green Bay Packer Bryan Bulaga as the stalwart of the team's line. The 6-6, 300-pound Reiff impresses coaches with his size and talent and also with his drive.

"Riley is very competitive and has a strong work ethic," offensive-line coach Reese Morgan said. "He doesn't hold anything back. That one rep in practice is the most important rep at that time."

Center James Ferentz and right tackle Markus Zusevics join Reiff as returning starters. Both started every game last season.

Slotted as the starting right guard is Adam Gettis. He was named a starter at the beginning of last season before an ankle injury took him out of the lineup. The senior is healthy this year, receiving praise from Ferentz, and he said he is eager to finally seize his chance for playing time.

"It was tough getting injured," Gettis said. "I just want to come back this year and play some football."

The only position seemingly open for competition is left guard, which features a battle between sophomore Nolan MacMillan and redshirt freshman Brandon Scherff. MacMillan started six games last year before being hit with a rash of injuries. And Scherff, at 6-5, 310 pounds, is the heaviest of the Hawkeye offensive lineman.

Whoever wins the left-guard spot will join an experienced line whose performance may take on extra importance given the youth of the team's skill-position players.

"To have a successful offense, you need a successful offensive line," Reiff said on Aug. 13. "We're just trying to go up there and do our job as best we can."

Follow DI football reporter Sam Louwagie on Twitter.


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