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Okay, I'll Say It: I Don't Trust the Offensive Line

There isn't much use in setting the stage for the point I want to make when it's in the headline, so let's get it out of the way straight off the bat (especially since I already said it to LTP): I'm not sold on the 2011 offensive line.

Left tackle's obviously set with Riley Reiff, and I am very happy about that. I wish no physical ill or off-the-field problem upon Reiff, because he's clearly going to be the best lineman of the bunch, and if he goes down then we've got a dire situation on our hands. All right?

<larrydavid>Having said that,</larrydavid> Reiff is in a position that Iowa asks a lot of, and compared to his predecessors, he doesn't work out that well. He's not on Robert Gallery's level, but let's be honest, few are. He's certainly not on Bryan Bulaga's sophomore-year level, which was a masher performance nonpareil, and the better corollary up to this point is "Bryan Bulaga recovering from a thyroid disorder." That was good enough to start at LT for Iowa, but it certainly wasn't great, and I don't see "great" from Reiff quite yet. Fortunately he's got two full years of eligibility and a pretty solid health record to prove me wrong.

Left guard, and the source of a lot of worry, is currently Adam Gettis. You might remember Gettis from such films as "Getting Run Over By Northern Iowa's Interior Linemen," and "Starting Briefly While Nolan MacMillan Was Hurt," neither of which were nominated for an Academy Award. He has a much stronger record of insufficiency than of success as a starting lineman, so there are three possible reasons for his placement in the starting lineup right now: 

1) Adam Gettis has made the leap and is now a Big Ten-quality offensive lineman. Yes! Hooray! This is cause for exultation, because it is a perfect case study in Chris Doyle's ability to transform a struggling lineman into an anchor for the rest of the starting five. I WANT THIS RESULT.

2) Adam Gettis is not much better than the last two years when we saw him, but he's good enough to start ahead of his backups. This is our concern, Dude. Yes, Kirk Ferentz and offensive line coach Reese Morgan have both seen much more of Gettis than we have. But what we've seen is not promising; Gettis has, historically, not the guy who plays his way into the starting lineup and then never gives the place up; on the contrary, he has been the beneficiary of injuries to Julian Vandervelde and Nolan MacMillan, and then has consequently not held onto the starting position. Lou Gehrig he ain't.

3) Adam Gettis is not as good as his backups, but he starts anyway because Ferentz and Morgan doesn't know much about the offensive line. This is implausible for many reasons.

James Ferentz is at center and is pretty good. He started every game at center for Iowa in 2010, and didn't merit even a preseason 4th team All-Big Ten nomination from Phil Steele. If his name was James Wilson and not James Ferentz, would you feel confident with him at center? Similarly, if his name was James Wilson and not James Ferentz, who would you put at center instead? Yeah. The best candidate at center right now is better known for his last name than his play. I really hope that changes.

Getting one whole year out of Nolan MacMillan would be nice. I don't mean that in some bitchy "why'd you get hurt yo" way, because it's not like MacMillan felt like bowing out in the middle of the year; he's got the talent to be a higher-round NFL draft pick. It's just that his track record of staying healthy isn't great, and he's a guy Iowa really needs to be able to depend on the run game, because...

...starting LT Marcus Zusevics, for all his qualities, is not a road grader. He doesn't share the faults of Kyle Calloway, whose agility was bad enough to get him pushed down to the 7th round in the 2010 NFL Draft. No, Zusevics is smaller and sprier, but for that reason he's really not a reliable seal-blocker on the outside--which is probably fine if you've got Brad Herman on Zusevics' side to help do the job--and that limits the versatility of whatever position Iowa needs a weak right side on. 

Now, paradoxically, I'm happy with Iowa's depth. Andrew Donnal and Brett Van Sloten are both future bookends at tackle, and Woody Orne and Brandon Scherff both sound to be ready to take the reins.

No, the real issue is just that as good as depth can be, the most important aspect of line play is the Front 5, and Iowa's starting linemen look at some points interchangeable with the backups. And if that's the case, the entire line's either world-class or overall mediocre. We're probably leaning toward the latter right now. And that ain't good.