NCF Nation: Rob Bruggeman
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- From the name on the back of his jersey to his obvious physical resemblance to Iowa's head coach, it's obvious that James Ferentz isn't like the rest of his Hawkeyes teammates.
Ferentz received a harsh reminder of this fact in April, when he and two teammates were arrested for public intoxication. It marked the second alcohol-related citation for Ferentz, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman for the Hawkeyes.
While both indiscretions were fairly minor, the arrest of head coach Kirk Ferentz's youngest son generated a great deal of local and regional media attention.
After being suspended for spring ball, Ferentz is back on the field for the start of Iowa's preseason camp. He will be suspended for Iowa's season opener against Northern Iowa.
"I just need to be smarter and make better decisions," James Ferentz said. "I learned a lot about myself this past season. I didn't make wise decisions. Now it's time to just get ready and get going for the season."
Kirk Ferentz expressed frustration about the attention his son's arrest received, but James said he knew the spotlight would be on him when he signed with Iowa.
"I made a mistake," he said, "but at the same time, I still think I'm in the right place and with the right people."
Ferentz, who was listed as the team's second-string center before spring practice, will compete for time alongside Rafael Eubanks and Josh Koeppel. Iowa loses starting center Rob Bruggeman, a second-team All-Big Ten selection.
After a trying offseason, Ferentz jumps at the chance to contribute on the field this fall.
"This is the one thing in my life that I really love and enjoy doing every day," he said. "It doesn't really matter where I'm at or what my position is on the team. I'm just excited to be a part of it."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Every Big Ten team circled and underlined a few questionable positions entering spring practice. Some of those concerns went away as young players blossomed and depth was built. Where did each Big Ten team get better this spring?
Here's a snapshot:
Illinois' running backs -- The development of sophomores Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure this spring gives Illinois plenty of options at running back heading into 2009. Ford and LeShoure both improved physically and mentally and will compete with senior Daniel Dufrene to be the featured runner. Bottom line: Juice Williams' job should be easier.
Indiana's offensive line -- After being decimated by injuries last season, Indiana can feel a bit better about the front five. Tackle James Brewer might finally be reaching his potential, and center Will Matte impressed the coaches in the middle of the line.
Iowa's offensive line -- This group figured to be pretty solid no matter what, but Iowa got some help from a familiar name in the interior line. Dace Richardson might finally be healthy, and he worked with the first-team at left guard as Iowa tries to replace all-conference linemen Seth Olsen and Rob Bruggeman.
Michigan's offensive line -- Not a major surprise here, considering the Wolverines bring back all their starters from last season. But an extra year of experience plus several talented redshirt freshmen (Ricky Barnum, Patrick Omameh) joining the mix should pay off big time this fall.
Michigan State's quarterbacks -- The Spartans felt great about the progress of quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, who both threw for 357 yards and four touchdowns in the spring game. Head coach Mark Dantonio is in no rush to name a starter, but unlike many men in his position, he really has two viable options here.
Minnesota's wide receivers -- With superstar Eric Decker playing baseball, Minnesota needed to identify other solid options at receiver. Return specialist Troy Stoudermire emerged as a big-play threat, and quarterback Adam Weber liked what he saw from Brandon Green and Da'Jon McKnight.
Northwestern's running backs -- Of the three offensive skill positions where Northwestern loses starters, running back appears to be the most stable. Sophomore Jeravin Matthews emerged this spring and will push Stephen Simmons for the starting job. Northwestern has several options in the backfield after losing four-year starter Tyrell Sutton.
Ohio State's linebackers -- You can't deny all the production Ohio State loses in its defensive midsection, but the spring revealed several solid players who can step in. Austin Spitler and Tyler Moeller have waited their turn for the spotlight, and Brian Rolle had an excellent spring. With returning starter Ross Homan back on the outside, the Buckeyes should once again be solid.
Penn State's defensive line -- Despite losing three defensive ends with starting experience, Penn State should once again boast one of the league's top pass rushes. Sophomore Jack Crawford looks like the Nittany Lions' next superstar pass rusher and should fill the void on the edge with Eric Latimore and Kevion Latham.
Purdue's running backs -- Even with Jaycen Taylor still rehabbing from a torn ACL, Purdue got a lot better at running back this spring. Ralph Bolden came out of nowhere to steal the show in spring scrimmages (420 rush yards, 4 touchdowns), and Dan Dierking also looked impressive. The Boilers will need a viable rushing attack this fall, and they can feel a lot better about this group.
Wisconsin's wide receivers -- Dropped passes dogged the receivers throughout 2008, but the group definitely got better this spring. Nick Toon emerged as a potential No. 1 target with an excellent performance in practice, and Isaac Anderson, Kyle Jefferson and David Gilreath all showed progress at times.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Iowa's offensive line allowed countless defenders to penetrate the backfield last season, leading to a Big Ten-worst 46 sacks surrendered.
The Hawkeyes also allowed a major part of their program's identity to disappear.
They've spent this fall getting it back.
"Upholding a tradition that's been here, with guys like Robert Gallery and Marshal Yanda and other guys we're trying to follow," senior center Rob Bruggeman said, "we're trying to make sure we don't let the legacy drop off like that. We're making sure we follow in that tradition."
Despite some youth and injury losses, Iowa regained its trademark edge on the offensive line this fall. The Hawkeyes reduced their sacks allowed total by 20 and finished second in the Big Ten in both scoring (30.2 points per game) and yards per rush (4.9).
Four Iowa offensive linemen earned All-Big Ten honors, including Bruggeman and sophomore left tackle Bryan Bulaga, both first-year starters at their respective positions (Bulaga started five games at guard in 2007). Bruggeman said the group, which features a mix of seniors and younger players, came together during the offseason and survived some instability at quarterback early on this fall.
"We've also got a pretty good running back who makes us look a little better," Bruggeman said. "That probably has something to do with how we block out there."
Gee, ya think?
Shonn Greene is the biggest reason why the Hawkeyes rebounded from three underwhelming seasons to reach Thursday's Outback Bowl, where they will take on South Carolina (ESPN, 11 a.m. ET). Greene set a single-season school rushing mark (1,729 yards), eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 12 games and captured the Doak Walker Award.
With a downhill, no-nonsense running style, Greene is a lineman's dream.
"His physical running style gives us motivation and gives us the confidence to block," Bruggeman said. "We know if we're blocking for him, he'll do the rest for us. So we just try to give him a seam."
Creating seams in a solid South Carolina defense won't be easy. The Gamecocks rank 12th nationally in total defense, though they've been susceptible to the run at times.
"We're trying to do the best we can to match that SEC speed," Bruggeman said.