Iowa Football 2014: Now, it's Brandon Scherff's turn to teach
IOWA CITY, Ia.-- Brandon Scherff said he's improved since the start of Iowa's fall camp. Better with his hands, better at pass protection, better at playing faster and more physical.
That is a scary thought, since the Hawkeyes' heralded left offensive tackle has already received preseason all-American accolades and is projected as a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
It's also a scary to think about Iowa's offensive line without No. 68 out there. That becomes reality next fall. And that's where this year and next year collide.
While Scherff is working to become the best offensive tackle in college football this season, the 6-foot-5, 320-pounder is also mentoring those who aspire to fill his shoes.
When he was a redshirt freshman in 2011, Scherff made three starts at left guard. He played between tackle Reilly Reiff, Detroit's first-round draft pick in 2012, and center James Ferentz, an incumbent starter now trying to make the Houston Texans roster.
"That helped me a lot, to have Reilly and James talk me through things since I'd never been there before," Scherff said. "It made me a little more confident that I knew what I was doing. That meant a lot to me."
Scherff, who replaced Reiff at left tackle the following season, is now in a similar role. Redshirt freshman Sean Welsh is starting at left guard, with Scherff on his left and junior center Austin Blythe, the incumbent starter, on his right.
Offensive line has traditionally been a position of strength at Iowa. Coach Kirk Ferentz's coaching pedigree is in the offensive line, first at Iowa for nine seasons under Hayden Fry, and then in the NFL. And now his son, Brian, is trying to establish the same pedigree in his third season as the Hawkeyes' offensive line coach.
Ferentz and Ferentz know that to be successful long term, you've got to have a feel for both the present and the future. And Iowa's offense will be only as good as the development of that line.
Both coaches have said that the depth of the offensive line is an area of concern on this year's team. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis has said the same.
Recruiting good players, with the right work ethic, is the obvious key to making those offensive lines a strength, and necessary to maintaining the "Bullies of the Big Ten" reputation that's been earned under Kirk Ferentz's watch.
But another key is the mentoring that takes place between established starters like Scherff and the future. Welsh is getting Brandon's full attention.
"If you have somebody between you who is a new player, it's your responsibility to bring the younger guys along," Brian Ferentz said. "It comes with the territory. If you can't handle that, you probably won't make it to being an older guy."
Scherff is also helping along another redshirt freshman, Ike Boettger, who is No.2 on Iowa's depth chart at left tackle. Boettger roomed with Scherff this summer and in fall camp.
Two former high school quarterbacks turned offensive linemen are manning a position that has been a pipeline to the NFL at Iowa.
"There have been a lot of guys like that, historically, who were not only good players but really good mentors to the other guys," Kirk Ferentz said. "(Scherff's) a good guy to follow as far as the way to do things."
Scherff's influence stretches from tackle to tackle, and down to the two-deeps and three-deeps. He sets a standard that many aspire to and few reach. But it's a good starting point in a program where developing the offensive line is a high priority.
Ferentz said a week ago that the offensive line has made progress, but depth remains an issue.
Next man in is up for debate. "That's a battle we'll be fighting all year," Kirk Ferentz said.
Helping to develop that future might be Scherff's lasting legacy, far beyond the postseason hardware he collects and the lucrative NFL contract he signs.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter:@ByRickBrown.