Position Preview: OL

New Offensive line coach Brian Ferentz and his little brother, center James Ferentz, leading way on Iowa's offensive line.

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IOWA CITY, Iowa - New Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz understands what it takes to be good at the position. It's not about individuality.

"We don't get the headlines, we don't expect to see our pictures in the paper, that's not why we play," Ferentz said while playing center at Iowa in the mid-2000s. "We play for days like (Saturday) where you really feel like the team put the game on your shoulders and it feels good to deliver. I've been part of offensive lines that didn't deliver. That doesn't feel very good."

Ferentz, whose father, Kirk, is the head coach, now must direct his charges to deliver. He'll be replacing three starters (Riley Reiff, Adam Gettis, Markus Zusevics) this season, all of whom were drafted into the NFL.

"We feel like we have a good mix of youth and experience coming back," Brian said in the spring. "Obviously we don't have that line where you can look at it and say, well, these five guys played these five spots last year. That's what they are going to play this year.

"I think this is a really good thing and I think it's going to develop some competition in the room, and I think that's healthy. Any time we can be competing and pushing each other to be better."

The experience begins in the middle, where Brian's brother, James Ferentz, returns for his senior season at center. James enters the fall having started 26 consecutive games at the position and is on the Rimington Trophy watch list.

"At the end of the day, he's a player, I'm his coach," Brian said. "It's my job to make sure that all of our players play at the standard that we set here and what we expect out of them is pretty simple, to play with great effort, and to do their best."

Left guard Matt Tobin started 10 games last season and played in all 13 Iowa contests as a junior. He shared time with Brandon Scherff, who looks like the front-runner to be the No. 1 left tackle this fall.

Scherff would replace Reiff, a first-round NFL pick. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound sophomore is on Phil Steele's preseason all-Big Ten fourth team.

Junior Brett Van Sloten held down the No. 1 right tackle spot in the spring. The 6-7, 292-pounder played there for most of December's Insight Bowl in place of the ill Zusevics and saw action in all 13, '11 contests.

If the above mentioned players take up four spots, that leaves the right guard slot open for competition. Junior Conor Boffeli and redshirt freshman Austin Blythe appear to be the top candidates to fill the position. Nolan MacMillan, a junior, also could find himself in the mix for a starting assignment if he can stay healthy.

Junior college transfer Eric Simmons might force his way into the conversation, but the coaches would prefer to red shirt him. Former Army All-American Andrew Donnal returns for his sophomore season after being listed as the No. 2 at left tackle for most of '11.

Drew Clark, Jordan Walsh and walk-on Tommy Gaul all boast at least two years in the program and will try to push for playing time. In the very least, they should provide quality depth.

Incoming freshmen Ryan Ward, Mitch Keppy and Reid Sealby could use time with strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle. If any of them play, that probably means that the injury bug infiltrated the position.


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