Harty: Brandon Scherff is proof that Kirk Ferentz still has the individual touch
Brandon Scherff’s improbable rise to stardom and future NFL riches is what Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz calls a story.
Iowa hasn’t had enough stories lately to be successful as a team, but Scherff’s story is the latest in a feel-good series.
The Denison native became the fourth Iowa offensive lineman under Ferentz to be taken in the first round of the NFL draft when the Washington Redskins selected Scherff with the fifth pick overall on Thursday.
With Ferentz entering his 17th season as head coach, that averages out to one offensive lineman being selected in the first round every four years. That’s not too shabby when you think about it.
You could argue that Iowa’s NFL pipeline is the best thing Ferentz has going for himself right now, especially with regard to linemen.
The NFL draft is sort of like what playing in the Rose Bowl used to be for Iowa as the high-water mark for the program.
Iowa hasn’t played in one of the major January bowl games since its appearance in the 2010 Orange Bowl. But it has had 23 players taken in the NFL draft since then, including three offensive linemen in the first round.
In addition to Scherff, former Iowa offensive linemen Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff were selected in the first round by the Green Bay Packers in 2010 and the Detroit Lions in 2012, respectively. Robert Gallery started the pipeline when the Oakland Raiders selected him with the second overall pick in 2004.
Scherff’s rise from a 3-star recruit from a small town in western Iowa to NFL first-round pick is proof that Ferentz still has what it takes to identify and then develop star linemen. Scherff had some nice scholarship offers from schools such as Nebraska, but he wasn’t considered a star recruit. He was a developmental player who picked a developmental program in his home state and then flourished.
Former NFL head coach Jon Gruden, whose brother Jay Gruden coaches the Redskins, raved about Scherff’s potential on ESPN.
“This pick makes me want to coach again,” said Jon Gruden, who now works as an NFL analyst for ESPN. “He is a physical, nasty tone-setter.
“He can wear you out as a run blocker. And with (running back) Alfred Morris running that zone, stretch scheme, expect the Redskins to run it to the left.”
Gruden went on to say that his brother wants to bring back some of the history of the Washington Redskins, including trying to emulate the famous offensive lines from the 1980s affectionately known as the “The Hogs.”
“If you want to do that, you have to have the hogs,” Jon Gruden said. “And Brandon Scherff, a very complete offensive tackle at Iowa that has been well trained by Kirk Ferentz will bring something to the Redskins that they haven’t had in a long time."
As far as recruiting pitches go, it doesn’t get much better than having a highly respected former Super Bowl winning head coach like Gruden singing your praise on national television.
It seems like whenever an Iowa player gets taken high in the draft that analysts go out of their way to praise the impact that Ferentz had on the player. Especially if it’s an offensive lineman.
That’s why it’s sort of a mystery to me that Iowa hasn’t landed more blue-chip offensive linemen with everything there is to sell under Ferentz, beginning with the NFL pipeline and his expertise.
And the few times when Iowa has landed blue-chip offensive linemen, the results have been more miss than hit. Bulaga certainly lived up to his high ranking while at Iowa for just three seasons. But that wasn’t the case for former five-star recruits Blake Larsen and Dan Doering, both of whom played sparingly at Iowa.
Another mystery to me is why the Iowa offensive line didn’t perform better last season with Scherff leading the way. Scherff apparently did his job or he wouldn’t have been named the 2014 Outland Trophy winner.
Junior center Austin Blythe also made second-team all-Big last season. And yet, the offensive line still was average at best.
To me, the NFL draft shows what is right and what is wrong with the Iowa program under Ferentz. Offensive linemen and defensive linemen both have a history of flourishing under Ferents, along with defensive backs, linebackers and tight ends to a certain extent.
The problem is at quarterback, receiver and running back.
Ricky Stanzi and Matt Rodgers are the only Iowa quarterbacks to be selected in the NFL draft since 1992. And Rodgers went in the 12th round. The draft has since been reduced to seven rounds.
I don’t want to dwell on the negative on a night in which those associated with the Iowa program have reason to celebrate. Other than winning games and having players graduate, I can’t imagine there is anything better for a head coach than seeing one of his players get taken fifth overall in the NFL draft.
Scherff put his trust in Ferentz and it has paid dividends on and off the field. Scherff didn’t achieve the team success he had hoped for as a Hawkeye.
But he has probably secured himself financially for life, which isn’t a bad consolation prize.