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Pat Harty: Iowa’s failure to sign top offensive linemen is baffling

[ 0 ] February 17, 2014 |

Given his track record, it’s fair to say that Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz is better at developing star offensive tackles than he is at signing them.

There have been a few exceptions, such as Bryan Bulaga, who turned down a long list of elite programs to play at Iowa where he became a star left tackle and a first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2010.

Blake Larsen and Dan Doering also had their pick of schools while being recruited as offensive linemen in high school, but neither lived up to expectations at Iowa.

Cedar Falls' Ross Pierschbacher, left, fends off Cedar Rapids Kennedy's Nick Dunne, right, in the first half of the game in the UNI-Dome Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (MATTHEW PUTNEY / Waterloo Courier)

Cedar Falls’ Ross Pierschbacher, left, fends off Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Nick Dunne, right, in the first half of the game in the UNI-Dome Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, in Cedar Falls, Iowa. (MATTHEW PUTNEY / Waterloo Courier)

For the most part, though, the best high school offensive linemen ultimately have said thanks, but no thanks to playing for the Hawkeyes.

That hasn’t stopped Ferentz’s staff from developing star left tackles on a regular basis, a list that in addition to Bulaga includes Robert Gallery, Riley Reiff and senior-to-be Brandon Scherff.

But it has convinced the Iowa coaches that they need to take a closer look at why they struggle to sign top-notch offensive linemen, especially at the tackle positions. It’s a real head scratcher, considering Ferentz’s area of expertise is the offensive line and considering his success with developing star offensive linemen at Iowa.

“We always evaluate ourselves after the season in all aspects of our program, and that’s one of the things we’re taking a look at right now because we can’t figure out why an offensive linemen wouldn’t want to come here,” Iowa recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson said on KCJJ radio on Feb. 8. “When you look at it, every one of our left tackles has been an (NFL) first-round draft pick.

“If you want to be an offensive lineman, there is no better place to be in the country than Iowa. But for some reason, we have a hard time selling kids on that. And we’re trying to evaluate that and see why that is.”

Iowa signed two offensive linemen in its 2014 recruiting class but also missed on countless others, most notably four-star prospect and Cedar Falls native Ross Pierschbacher. He signed with Alabama after being committed to Iowa for over six months.

However, Pierschbacher projects more as an offensive guard in college, and Iowa is better stocked at those two inside positions. The two offensive linemen that signed with Iowa on Feb. 5 — Lucas LeGrand from Dubuque Senior and Keegan Render from Indianola — both are expected to start their career at offensive guard.

It’s the two tackle positions where Iowa failed to restock with its 2014 class.

The Iowa coaches tried to get Southfield, Mich., native Chukwuma Okorafor to switch his commitment from Western Michigan, but to no avail.

St. Louis,. Mo., native Brian Wallace also picked Arkansas over Iowa, Alabama and Missouri.

Wallace and Okorafor both were recruited as offensive tackles.

“There is one guy that we had targeted in particular, we hoped we would have landed at that position,” Ferentz said without being specific. “So that is the bad news.

“The good news is I think, moving forward, there is a really good opportunity to get some players that can fortify that position here in the year coming in recruiting. So I’m not panicking.”

There is no reason to panic because Ferentz has a formula for success that works. It’s just strange that more star offensive linemen don’t want to play for him.

Former West Des Moines Valley offensive tackle Jake Campos was considered the top instate recruit in 2012, but he signed with Iowa State after being committed to Missouri.

“You just don’t know what makes kids click these days,” Johnson said. “But that is something we’re trying to look at because that is a position we can sell. We have a great strength and conditioning program.”

Iowa could benefit from what appears to be a strong high school junior class for in-state offensive linemen. West Lyon offensive lineman Jake Newborg already has committed to Iowa, while twins Levi and Landan Paulsen both currently hold scholarship offers from Iowa, although neither has committed. The Paulsen twins attend Woodbury Central High School.

It’d be easy to blame Iowa’s inability to sign star offensive linemen on the weather, as some kids prefer playing in a warmer climate. Iowa’s 4-8 record in 2012 also might have scared some away.

But that still doesn’t explain why Okorafor picked Western Michigan, or why Chicago native and four-star offensive lineman JaMarco Jones signed with Ohio State after barely considering Iowa, which doubled its win total from 2012 by finishing 8-5 this past season.

Sometimes, it’s just a case where a kid like Jones picks a school that has more tradition and more prestige. But in many cases, the reasons aren’t as clear and you’re left wondering why Iowa couldn’t seal the deal.

The Iowa coaches are right in being proactive about this trend. The first step in fixing a problem is to address it.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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