WEST DES MOINES, Ia. — If Iowa is a little thin on the defensive line this spring, it’s not Brady Reiff’s fault.
The sophomore with the familiar last name is devouring his new role as a tackle — which, for now, consists of devouring everything in sight.
“I just eat a lot,” Reiff told reporters after getting first-team reps during the Hawkeyes open practice session Friday at Valley Stadium. “When my stomach feels bloated, that’s about right.”
Reiff, whose older brother Riley was a star offensive tackle at Iowa before becoming a first-round NFL draft choice in 2012, arrived on campus two years ago weighing 225 pounds. He had even played some wide receiver and linebacker in high school in Parkston, S.D. He thought defensive end was going to be his future.
But a funny thing happened during practices leading up to the Rose Bowl at the tail end of Reiff’s redshirt season. A defensive tackle went down with an injury and the coaches waved Reiff in for what he thought would be just one play.
“It really wasn’t a conversation. It just happened one day in practice and they just kind of kept putting me in there,” Reiff said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I went in there and I guess I made a good impression.”
Reiff was a third-stringer a year ago, playing in seven games and making one tackle. He’s up to 260 pounds now — hoping to chew his way to 270 by the time the season starts — and has been praised by his position coach, Reese Morgan, and head coach Kirk Ferentz during spring practices. Ferentz mentioned Reiff on Friday as one of a handful of little-known players who have stood out so far.
He's getting a chance because senior Nathan Bazata isn’t practicing this spring in order to let an ankle injury fully heal. And Reiff is finding that tackle is a much more comfortable spot for him than end.
“You don’t have to think as much. You don’t have as much responsibility. Things happen a little bit quicker,” Reiff said. “You’ve got to get off your blocks quick when you’re going against 300-pound guys. … You’ve got to be quick, react quick and just separate.”
Quickness is Reiff’s strength. He has drawn comparisons to undersized Hawkeye defensive tackles of the past like Mitch King, Karl Klug and Louis Trinca Pasat. Reiff watches film of all those guys.
And he eats. Every time he reaches a goal weight, the training staff bumps that up five or 10 pounds. And Reiff eats some more.
But he’s done so without sacrificing his vitality, Reiff is quick to point out. He said he recorded his best results running and jumping this spring.
“Everything improved agility-wise. I’ve put on healthy weight so far, I think,” Reiff said. “When I hit my certain goal weight, they’re going to bump me. That’s just the way it has to be if I want to play tackle.
“You just can’t skip meals.”
Having a year of experience at tackle is also a plus for Reiff, who is in line to be at least a second-stringer this fall. That means more playing time.
“Moving to defensive tackle actually helped me learn a little bit more of the playbook too,” he said. “I kind of know what everyone on the D-line is doing, not just the end.”
Those ends are missing a starter this spring as well. Junior Matt Nelson is sidelined with a foot injury, although he is expected back for summer workouts, Ferentz said. Sophomore Anthony Nelson missed some time early in spring with a concussion but was back on the field Friday, joining Parker Hesse and Sam Brincks.
Anthony Nelson said working alongside guys like Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore at tackle will help the line when the veterans return.
“That’s part of the process,” he said. “Each team needs to get closer and build that chemistry.
“Not having (Matt Nelson) out there is a big hit to us, at least for our productivity in practice. But he’s such a good guy and he’s such a good leader that he’s making an impact even when he’s not in the drills or playing. He’s helping out the young guys.”