Hawks in the NFL: front and center

BY CHARLIE GREEN | JULY 14, 2015 5:00 AM

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If Iowa football does one thing well, it’s preparing college offensive lineman for the NFL trenches.

Two of three Hawkeyes selected in this year’s draft are lineman. And in the Kirk Ferentz era, several blockers have been selected in the first round, the highest being Robert Gallery at No. 2 in 2004.
In all, 11 former Iowa linemen are on NFL rosters entering training camp.

Several are fighting for roster spots, and some are fighting for starting positions. But a few are locks to start, reinforcing Iowa’s reputation as a factory for producing NFL prospects on the offensive line.

Riley Reiff, Detroit Lions

In April, the Lions picked up the fifth-year option of Reiff’s rookie contract, sealing him up as their left tackle through 2016.

That said, 2015 is a critical year for Reiff’s bank account.

Drafted with the 23rd pick in 2012, with a strong season, he’ll be looking at a long-term, lucrative extension in the off-season. Left tackles are at a premium in the NFL, especially for teams with a franchise quarterback as the Lions have in Matthew Stafford.

If Detroit feels Reiff is the right guy to protect Stafford’s blind side, he should become the third highest-paid player on the team behind Stafford and All Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

He has started 31 games over the past two seasons. The Lions gave up 45 sacks last year, 11th worst in the league. In addition, they ranked 28th in rushing.

Marshal Yanda, RG, Baltimore Ravens

If Brandon Scherff turns into the player Yanda is, he will be well worth the fifth-overall pick that Washington used on him.

Yanda may be the NFL’s most underrated offensive lineman and is likely the best Iowa alum in the NFL.

He was, at least, recently recognized as such by the players, earning the No. 76 spot on the “Top 100 Players of 2015” — a feat no other Hawkeye achieved.

Taken in the third round in 2007, Yanda enters his ninth season in the league, and he has shown no signs of slowing down.

Last year, he anchored one of the best lines in football. The group made life easy for quarterback Joe Flacco; he was sacked just 19 times during the season — the second lowest mark of 2014.

The group also paved the way for 2,019 team rushing yards, good for eighth in the league. Much of that yardage came from Justin Forsett, a back who had previously spent his career as second option.
In his sixth season, Forsett ran for a career-high 1,266 yards — besting his mark of 619 in his rookie season of 2009.

In the absence of Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, the Raven’s rushing attack didn’t miss a beat. As an interior lineman, Yanda was and remains at the center of that attack.

Matt Tobin, Philadelphia Eagles

With the release of veteran guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans in the off-season, Tobin has a real shot to start at guard for the Eagles in 2015.

The third-year pro will compete with Andrew Gardner and Dennis Kelly for the right-guard spot come training camp. Although Gardner replaced him at the end of last season, Tobin may have the edge because of his size and youth.

At 6-6 and 290 pounds, the former Hawk made seven starts for the Eagles last season. Unlike Reiff and Yanda, Tobin is not a lock to start.

But Philadelphia needs answers on its line, and Tobin has a golden opportunity to step up.

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