Position Preview: Offensive Line

BY BEN ROSS | AUGUST 27, 2013 5:00 AM

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Almost always touted as a strength of any given Iowa football team, the offensive line in 2013 should be no different.

Just about every O-lineman who will likely appear for Iowa has seen significant playing time for the Black and Gold, whether as a starter or in a backup role. Brandon Scherff and Brett Van Sloten return as the bookend tackles for Iowa’s line, each having seen significant starts a year ago.

Van Sloten started all 12 games at right tackle for Iowa in 2012, and he is slotted to continue his presence there.

Scherff was dominant on the blind side until he went down for the season with a leg injury against Penn State. The two tackles helped running back Mark Weisman reach national acclaim, springing the sophomore for 623 yards rushing in just four games.

Scherff underwent surgery following the Penn State game, but he said he was back and ready to play as soon as the new year came. The Denison, Iowa, native said he was able to transition back into football seamlessly, even with a new quarterback behind him to get used to.

“We trust [the quarterbacks] to do their job, they trust us the same way, we’re going to be the best we can,” Scherff said.

But even though the line was able to lead Iowa’s backfield to great success for a brief stretch in 2012, it’s likely that the return of players such as Van Sloten and Scherff could mean elongated prosperity within the trenches.

“We’re anxious to move onto the 2013 season,” Van Sloten said at Iowa media day on Aug. 8. “It’s important to remember how disappointing last season was, at the same time we want to push forward and leave a footprint as the 2013 Iowa Hawkeyes.”

Between the tackles, Austin Blythe will be charged with replacing James Ferentz at center, who started more than 30 games over three years for Iowa. Blythe started nine games at right guard last year as a redshirt freshman with mixed results. He’ll return to his natural position in 2013, and with three more years of eligibility available, Blythe could be poised to become Iowa’s next great center.

Conor Boffeli and Jordan Walsh fill in the left and right guard spots. Walsh started just one game last year, against Northwestern. Boffeli started the final three games of 2012 and has been touted highly by head football coach Kirk Ferentz this spring, saying the former tight end was the clear choice for one of the guard positions.

“Boffeli had as good a spring as anybody, and he’s had a good camp, and I think he’ll be hard to beat out,” Ferentz said following an open practice on Aug. 17. “He turned the corner and is playing as well as we hoped he would. The other spot is an open book right now, and we’ll see.”

Walsh will have a short leash as a starter, especially with Andrew Donnal chomping at his heels.

Donnal, who also fell to injury against Penn State last year, has two more career starts than Walsh under his belt and is the most likely candidate to give him a run for his money.

With all the experience coming back on the line and Iowa’s two leading rushers from 2012 returning, Van Sloten said he can tell there’s a feeling of optimism around the locker room.

“You can tell people are giving an extra effort,” he said. “They’re not just doing what they’re told to do. That’s what it’s going to take for us to get the season we want.”

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