Posted by: marcmwm | July 14, 2009

Hall of Ferentz — Guard

Iowa's Eric Steinbach (56) looks to make a block against Mich St., Oct. 12, 2002, in Iowa City, Iowa. Steinbach was selected as the 33rd overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday, April 26, 2003, in New York. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Iowa's Eric Steinbach (56) looks to make a block against Mich St., Oct. 12, 2002, in Iowa City, Iowa. Steinbach was selected as the 33rd overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday, April 26, 2003, in New York. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

One of the first times I met with coach Kirk Ferentz was on a Tuesday in Iowa City. Standing across from me in the waiting area was this 6-7 kind of lanky kid from Illinois named Eric Steinbach. I knew who he was. He was a good get for Hayden Fry’s final recruiting class at Iowa in ’98. I think he was in Ferentz’s office because that was the day he might’ve been told he was moving to O-line.

It paid off, literally. Steinbach signed a $49.5 million contract with the Cleveland Browns in 2007.

1) Eric Steinbach (1999-02) 

This is a story I wrote from the 2003 Orange Bowl:

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – Eric Steinbach screams Chicago.

The Chicago accent is thicker than a Chicago-style slice of pizza. His name, Steinbach, sounds like a beer brewed in Chicago for
Chicagoans. He proclaims himself a somber, blue-collar regular guy, a Chicago guy.

And down here in sun-baked Miami, he has that Chicago-guy tan, basically a blaze-red nose and brow. Of course, he loves the Chicago Bears. But he’s not going to be picky next April. Even if the Green Bay Packers select him in the first round of the NFL draft, he’ll go with a smile and a green-and-gold Packers cap on his head.

Chicago, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, anywhere NFL suits Steinbach just fine.

“For my parents and buddies who live in Chicago, yeah, the Bears would be a dream come true,” said Iowa’s 6-foot-7, 290-pound senior guard. “We all grew up loving the Bears. But the closer (the draft) gets, I hope the team that needs me the most drafts me. I’m ready to check out another city.”

Steinbach’s credentials say he’s Iowa best offensive lineman. He made four all-American teams, including the Associated Press. Big Ten coaches voted him offensive lineman of the year.

Come Thursday after Iowa meets USC in the Orange Bowl, Steinbach will have two more games, the East/West Shrine game and the Senior Bowl, which is a week in Mobile, Ala., practicing and playing in front of every NFL scout who can squeeze a stopwatch.

But really, picking Iowa’s best offensive lineman is like picking the shiniest Rolls-Royce, which is something they actually do down here in Miami. Three of Iowa’s linemen — Steinbach, center Bruce Nelson and tackle Robert Gallery – were all-Big Ten this year.

Yet, Steinbach, who’s from Lockport, a south Chicago suburb, somehow distinguishes himself, and it’s all his play, not any sort of self-promotion.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper rates Steinbach a top-15 draft pick. Countless other NFL draftniks have Steinbach going somewhere in the first round.

“Even if I don’t look at them (draft projections), people see them and come up and tell me,” Steinbach said. “I’ve just got to realize that those people aren’t
actually making the real draft picks. I’ve got to go to the Senior Bowl and the (NFL) combines and impress them there to solidify it, because I’d love to go that high.”

You can listen to Mel Kiper explain what sets Steinbach apart, or you can listen to his linemates who have seen him every game, every practice.

“I really believe he has so much potential,” guard Andy Lightfoot said. “He weighs 290 pounds right now. He could probably put on 20 more pounds without getting fat.

“He’s probably one of the fastest guards in the country. He can move side-to-side and get up field probably faster than any guard.”

At 290, Steinbach isn’t the cookie-cutter 300-pounder that’s the NFL norm. He arrived at Iowa as a 235-pound tight end and has kept at least some of that tight end agility.

“I don’t think he would really have the tools,” Iowa’s all-American tight end Dallas Clark said with a laugh. “Maybe if you need that 4-yard catch and that’s it, then maybe. But if you need anymore than that, probably not.

“I’m not sure what kind of tight end Steinie would’ve made. He doesn’t have that flexibility and quickness. But now he’s a lineman and a great one at
that.”

He’s also Ox-strong. O-line coaches love the players with the strong base, the anchor-types who are hard to move. Steinbach has the team’s strongest squat lift, at 650 pounds.

“He’s an athletic guy and extremely strong,” Nelson said. “He might not look like it, but he certainly is.”

The strength goes hand in hand with explosiveness.

“You watch the film, he’s always the first one firing out,” tackle David Porter said. “Sometimes, it looks like he gets out before the ball is snapped. He’s always the first person moving, that way he gets the jump on the defenders.

“He’s up on a linebacker sometimes before the rest of us make contact with the down linemen. That’s just hard to defend against. He makes difficult and complicated blocks look very easy.”

The Orange Bowl is a wonderful stage for Steinbach. It’s the only game Thursday night, primetime Thursday night. USC’s defense hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher. And the Trojans didn’t do it against stiffs, holding six 1,000-yard rushers to less than 100, including Colorado’s Chris Brown.

“We have a list of goals on our game sheet,” middle linebacker Mike Pollard said. “At the top of that list every game is stopping the run. That’s definitely at the top this week. If we can do that against these guys, that’s really doing something.”

A strong Orange Bowl, with a running back Fred Russell going for 100 yards and quarterback Brad Banks passing and running, could help solidify a first-round slot for Steinbach.

A signing bonus for a first-rounder can hit the $3 million range, a nice bonus for a blue-collar kid from a blue-collar family from a bluer-than-blue collar suburb.

Steinbach’s dad, John, is a sales manager at a trailer dealership. Ruth Steinbach is a stay-at-home mom. They had to scrimp and save to send two sons through Providence Catholic High School.

“They had to sacrifice a lot,” said Steinbach, whose brother, Rory, is a walk-on freshman at Iowa. “There were times when our parents weren’t doing so well as far as income.

“We were never really hurting. But my dad went a pretty long time between buying new cars, a real long time. We’re just a regular, blue-collar family.

“That’s why I think it’d be so great if I were given the opportunity to be drafted into the NFL. I probably wouldn’t know what to do with that money.”

After spending a week in trendy Miami, he’ll think of something.

_____________

Steinbach was a consensus all-American. Those guys get their portaits painted and placed along the hallway that leads to the Iowa lockerroom in the Hayden Fry Football Complex.

2) Seth Olsen (2005-08)

Gazette sports columnist Mike Hlas, owner and operator of The Hlog, wrote a pretty great column about Olsen just before the NFL draft.

Here’s an excerpt from a story I wrote at the Outback Bowl:

“Olsen” and “NFL” in the same sentence seemed to be a bit of a stretch after his Hawkeye debut.

After running on the second team in 2004, Olsen was pushed into action when right tackle Ben Gates suffered an injury going into the 2005 Iowa State game. This was when Iowa State’s defense had some teeth, with names like Jason Berryman, Nick Leaders, Tim Dobbins and Brent Curvey.

Olsen made his first start at right tackle and the Cyclones found him on the first snap. For the day, ISU had three sacks and six hurries. Berryman beat Olsen and forced backup quarterback Jason Manson into a quick throw that was returned for a TD.

“I got taken out in the fourth quarter for the guy I replaced (Gates),” Olsen said. “I was in for three quarters and they said, ‘Well, we’re going to be passing, we’re going to put him in.’ I was surprised. Why didn’t they play him the whole game if they played him in the fourth quarter?”

After that game during his red-shirt freshman season, Olsen went back to spot and backup duty. His next start didn’t come until 13 games later and came only because starter Mike Jones was suspended.

He ended up finishing the 2006 season bouncing between right guard and tackle but starting every game. In 2007, he started all 12 games at right tackle. This year, he’s been the right guard for every game except the two he missed.

His 33 starts are third on the team, behind only defensive tackles Matt Kroul (49) and Mitch King (44).

“Guard feels right,” Olsen said. “I think I’m versatile and I think I could play both (in the NFL). (But) I’ve been very comfortable at right guard, being able to play there for an entire season. It’s been good and I think it’s been good for all of us, building up our continuity and playing next to the same guy all year.”

The Berryman/Iowa State game was a tough one, but Olsen has plenty of good ones to balance it out.

Olsen has had “wins” against Michigan’s LaMarr Woodley and Michigan State’s Jonal Saint-Dic. He did what he could with Penn State’s Jared Odrick in his first start coming off the ankle injury.

You win some, you lose some.

“You’re not going to win them all,” Olsen said. “You have to be strong enough, smart enough to move on.”

Olsen is both.

___________

Olsen was a first-team all-Big Ten pick by league coaches and media. He was also an academic all-Big Ten selection. He earned the coaches appreciation award for offense at the team’s banquet.

3) Mike Jones (2003-06)

 Mike Jones was a quiet guy. Here’s a story from 2006 that confirms.

IOWA CITY – Mike Jones didn’t have time to talk. He had a meeting and was running late.

He was courteous and apologetic.

That’s OK, though. We can make this work.

Plenty of his teammates had plenty to say about Iowa’s left guard, who may have set some sort of record for anonymity after starting 40 games in four seasons.

“He’s kind of like a hermit crab,” said offensive tackle Marshal Yanda, who lived with Jones for a year. “You see him come out of his shell every once in a
while.”

Jones also, apparently, has a desert-dry sense of humor.

“He’s not your average guy,” tight end Scott Chandler said. “He’s definitely unique.”

There was a time during fall camp when Jones had the opportunity to talk to the team. No one knew what to expect out of Jones.

“You see Jones get up and you’re like, what is he going to say?” Chandler said. “He got up there and had us rolling. What he said was hilarious.”

Jones is a good roomie, Yanda said.

“He’s one of those roommates who’s not going to be out in the living room all the time and watching the wrong TV channel,” Yanda said. “He was always in his room doing his own little thing.”

Maybe that time in his room was spent writing comedy.

“He makes us all laugh and he says it all with a straight face,” Chandler said. “I don’t know how he does it. But he’s a guy who has a hidden talent, a sense of
humor.”

He’s a funny guy and a good, quiet “hermit crab” of a roommate, but he’s also a good player who’s playing the best football of his career.

Forty games ago, on the Saturday before the 2003 Ohio State game, Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz made some phone calls trying to track down the true freshman from Chicago Ridge, Ill.

Then-center Brian Ferentz had his season ended with a knee injury the week before. Iowa had injuries all over on the offensive line. Jones had played on the scout team all season and showed promise, or least enough to have the head coach trying to track him down on the bye week before Ohio State.

“I remember distinctly calling him on a Saturday night. He was at his grandmother’s house,” Ferentz said. “We tracked him down in Chicago. It was a)
do you want to play? and then b) we’re playing Ohio State this week.”

Ferentz said it wasn’t an easy decision for Jones. He wanted to protect his red-shirt season, which is almost standard operating procedure for offensive linemen. In college football, you don’t see a lot of 18-year-old true freshmen matching muscle with a 23-year-old fifth-year senior who’s spent four years in his college’s weight room.

The worry was Jones would burn a red-shirt and see four snaps here and there. But no, Iowa was desperate and, as it turned out, Jones was more than ready.

“It wasn’t like he was going to be the sixth guy. He was in there and going to start,” Ferentz said. “He didn’t want to burn a year playing four snaps a game.
That I understand totally.”

Jones started against the Buckeyes, alongside left tackle and future Oakland Raider Robert Gallery. Jones was tied to Gallery’s hip.

“That was his baptism to the thing, and he’s done a great job,” Ferentz said.

He started at guard as Iowa went on to beat three ranked opponents in 2003, finish 10-2 and whip Florida in the Outback Bowl, 37-17. There was some experimentation after that. He wanted to play tackle, so Iowa coaches tried him at right tackle in 2004. Three games into the season he was back at left guard.

Last season, he switched between right and left tackle before settling in at guard four games in. It was a comfort-level thing, Ferentz said.

“I can’t give you an explanation why it is, but I think it just seems where he’s functioned the best,” Ferentz said. “He’s comfortable there. He’s
operated efficiently at that position. We tried it. We weren’t doing him a favor by doing that. So, we made some adjustments there.”

Going into this season, Jones had every preseason honor a guard could hope for – preseason all-Big Ten from three publications, named the fifth-best guard in the country by The Sporting News.

He had a streak of consecutive starts snapped when he was held out of the Illinois game for disciplinary reasons. Otherwise, he’s had an all-conference-caliber season.

“He’s one of those rough-and-tough guys,” Yanda said. “Mike’s got really good feet. One of the things I’d really like to have is Mike’s feet. The way
he takes steps, his first step, second step, he’s one of those technician guys. He really focuses on his technique. He really moves well.

“He’s got great intensity and emotion. When he plays out there, he’s focused.”

Jones has a shot in the NFL draft. Internet draftniks have him ranked anywhere from the No. 3 guard to No. 8. Ferentz said Jones will have opportunities.

From the sounds of it, he might have as good a shot at his own sitcom.

Honorable mention: Andy Lightfoot. He started for the 2002 O-line, arguably the best in school history. Plus, he’s in residency to become a urologist. One of the brightest people I’ve ever interviewed in any situation. Almost put Pete McMahon here, but I think he belongs with the tackles.

 

Andy Brodell celebrates with Seth Olsen after scoring early during the third quarter of their football game at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008. (AP Photo/The Herald-Times, Rich Janzaruk II)

Andy Brodell celebrates with Seth Olsen after scoring early during the third quarter of their football game at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008. (AP Photo/The Herald-Times, Rich Janzaruk II)

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Responses

  1. Is Jones on an NFL squad? Excellent list.

  2. I don’t know, E. I believe he was last season.

  3. I didn’t realize you could see so far into the future Marc. It’ll be interesting to see how Ferentz pulls off coaching for another 200 years. He always did seem kinda robotic in those press conferences…

    (article and list were good, but I can’t resist giving you some crap for the typo on Mike Jones’ years played)

  4. Steinbach in particular brings back so many memories of the converted tight ends and otherwise thrown-together guys in 1999 and 2000 who were beat up, beat down, and just weren’t ready as a group for prime time. The growth and improvement of the line up to the 2002 season is perhaps THE signature of the Ferentz era so far. One of the greatest moments in Iowa football I have ever seen was those linemen, hand in hand, trotting off the field late in the fourth quarter, game well in hand, at the end of the 2002 regular season.

  5. Scott — Me too! I should’ve posted that picture here.

    Adam — Terminator 6, Rise of the O-lineman. Starring Mike Jones.

  6. […] Hall of Ferentz — Guard […]


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