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Special report: NFL results on rise under Ferentz

[ 0 ] July 13, 2013 |


On any given Sunday, Chad Greenway could strike a pose.

Greenway, a linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings, belongs to an impressive fraternity of former Iowa football players who have thrived in the NFL.

And he wants to make sure everyone feels welcome.

“Every week, you look into that (opponent’s) roster and, ‘Who do I get to see?’ ” Greenway explained. “I always try to take a picture with them, and circulate it out to them, whether it be a home or away game. … Just to kind of (chronicle) what we’ve done in the NFL, what we’ve seen, who we’ve been able to play.”

This summer marks the 10th anniversary of an unprecedented influx of Hawkeyes.

Robert Gallery was the No. 2 overall pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2007. (Getty Images)

Robert Gallery was the No. 2 overall pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2004. (Getty Images)

A total of 17 players from Iowa’s 2002 team — which went undefeated in the Big Ten Conference and earned an Orange Bowl berth — would eventually hear their name called during the NFL’s annual April draft.

Once-unheralded recruits such as Bob Sanders (the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2007) and Dallas Clark (All-Pro in 2009) added to the luster of an already memorable season with their post-collegiate careers.

Offensive lineman Robert Gallery (the second overall pick in 2004), kicker Nate Kaeding (a Pro Bowl selection in 2006 and ’09) and Greenway (No. 70 on the NFL Network’s top 100 players of 2013) helped solidify that legacy.

“It’s hard to kind of fathom,” Greenway said, “the amount of talent that we did have on that team.”

The pipeline remained productive for nearly a decade, with 45 Hawkeyes being drafted from 2003 to 2012.

But after last year’s 4-8 finish, Micah Hyde was the only Iowa player chosen in the 2013 draft (in the fifth round by the Green Bay Packers).

That may lead some to wonder if the Hawkeyes have peaked under coach Kirk Ferentz.

“I think it’s cyclical,” said Paul Burmeister, a former Hawkeye quarterback and a studio host for NFL Network. “It ebbs and flows with the majority of programs. I would imagine in the next couple years it will swing back.”

Humble beginnings

Bruce Nelson and his teammates shared modest origins.

The Emmetsburg native arrived in Iowa City as a walk-on and was still developing as an offensive lineman during a 1-10 season in 1999.

“You’re just in survival mode,” Nelson recalled. “You’re just hoping you can win a game, let alone go to the NFL.

“It’s not even a thought.”

Nate Kaeding recently retired as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history (USA TODAY Sports)

Nate Kaeding recently retired as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history (USA TODAY Sports)

Kaeding was a freshman in 2000, when the Hawkeyes went 3-9.

“None of us really had NFL aspirations,” he said. “We were just coming in and buying into coach (Chris) Doyle’s strength and conditioning program.

“And then, as we started winning, some of those other things became more and more of a reality.”

Ferentz’s strategy continues to be based on total commitment.

“There’s nothing magical about walking in the doors over there and listening to Chris,” Ferentz said. “But the guys who work hard in that program and then also take it away from the building — proper sleep, nutrition, all those things — can give them a real edge compared to the average guy in college.”

It paid dividends in 2001, when Ladell Betts became a second-round choice of the Washington Redskins and defensive end Aaron Kampman was taken in the fifth round by Green Bay.

“Aaron is probably a good poster child for this,” Ferentz said. “First of all, he was unselfish. And we asked him to consider moving (from linebacker). He considered it, and decided it was going to be good for him. I don’t think Aaron would have ever been a Pro Bowl linebacker.”

Clark switched from linebacker to tight end. Gallery went from tight end to left tackle. Those moves helped Iowa improved to 7-5 in 2001, including a win over Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl.

“The NFL scouts look at all the tangible, quantitative things like how fast you run, how much you can bench press, or field goal percentage,” Kaeding said. “But they’re not immune to some of the hype, as well.

“That’s one of the main things they like seeing, that win total racking up.”

Higher standard

At first glance, Ferentz and former coach Hayden Fry appear to have similar results when it comes to player development.

The Hawkeyes had 49 draftees during Fry’s first 14 seasons. But 17 of those were taken in the eighth round or later.

During Ferentz’s 14-year tenure, 52 Hawkeyes have been selected — in an era when the draft consists of just seven rounds.

“I love Hayden Fry as much as anybody,” Burmeister said. “And Hayden had a wonderful reputation of putting guys in the NFL. But when Kirk came in and took over, it didn’t matter what Hayden and his staff did … Kirk kind of had to start from scratch, the way he was going to do it.”

Ferentz’s protégés have also set a standard for success at the professional level.

Safety Bob Sanders was a key member of the 2007 Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts. He won NFL defensive player of the year honors the following season.

Safety Bob Sanders was a key member of the 2007 Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts. He won NFL defensive player of the year honors the following season. (Getty Images)

Greenway led the Vikings in tackles each of the past five years. Kaeding led the NFL in 2009 with 32 made field goals and 146 points. Sanders and Clark emerged as stars during the Indianapolis Colts’ Super Bowl victory in 2007.

Nelson was the first graduate of Iowa’s 2002 squad to compete for the NFL’s ultimate prize. He was selected in the second round by Carolina and was a member of the Panthers’ 2003 team that lost to New England in the Super Bowl.

“I was physically prepared, no doubt,” Nelson said. “And even the schematics of the plays, I thought we were very, very prepared.”

Nelson credits Ferentz and former Iowa assistant Joe Philbin, who now leads the Miami Dolphins.

“I had no problem picking up the offense and understanding my role and my job, and how I was going to do it, once I got to (the NFL),” Nelson said.

In other words, Ferentz lays the groundwork for a smooth transition.

“I think the way we play systematically or stylistically, scouts don’t have to project,” Ferentz said. “They’ll see our guys actually doing things that they’ll do in the NFL. We’re not always in the shotgun. Our running game would carry over to the NFL in a lot of instances.”

The next chapter

It’s still too early to judge the NFL impact of Iowa’s 2009 team, which was invited to — and won — the Orange Bowl.

Bryan Bulaga (Green Bay) and Tyler Sash (New York Giants) played on Super Bowl winners. Adrian Clayborn (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Pat Angerer (Indianapolis Colts) and Tony Moeaki (Kansas City Chiefs) have shown promise.

“Now that I’ve been with the Vikings for eight years, any Hawkeye who comes in, I make sure they get special treatment from our equipment guys, getting everything they need to make themselves successful,” Greenway said. “It’s just a fun fraternity to be a part of, and something that will be life long.”

How many will join in coming seasons? That may depend on whether the Hawkeyes return to the Big Ten’s upper tier.

“Iowa will come back as long as Kirk is there,” Burmeister said. “They’re always going to have a chance to win a lot of games, and there’s always going to be those years when a number of kids get drafted.”

The Register’s Rick Brown contributed to this report.


Bruce Nelson: ‘I soaked it up’

Bruce Nelson’s professional career was brief, but memorable.

In a span of 13 months, the Emmetsburg native played in an Orange Bowl and a Super Bowl, where the Carolina Panthers lost to New England.

“It comes at you so fast,” said Nelson, a second-round draft choice in 2003. “Everybody says ‘Enjoy it, soak it up, remember this.’ You just can’t.

“It’s kind of like raising kids. Everybody says, ‘Love them while they’re still little. They grow up fast.’ They do, but there’s no way to love them more. It just happens.”

Nelson spent two seasons with the Panthers before hip injuries took a toll.

“That’s the way I describe my NFL experience: It just happened,” Nelson said. “It just came at me. I enjoyed it. I soaked it up.”


Dallas Clark: From an early afterthought to NFL All-Pro

Sometimes, a position switch can make all the difference.

Paul Burmeister of the NFL Network, an ex-Hawkeye quarterback, recalled a conversation he had with former teammate Bret Bielema, who was then an assistant coach under Kirk Ferentz.

It was about a player who seemed to have a bleak future.

“I remember Bret calling me and saying, ‘I’ve got this walk-on linebacker,’ ” Burmeister said. “He’s a great kid. Great special teams. He just can’t play linebacker. I don’t know what we’re going to do with him.’’’

That linebacker was Dallas Clark, who switched to tight end and became an NFL All-Pro.

“It turns out a number of those kids found a position they liked,” Burmeister said. “They found out they liked the grind of working at football every single day. And they were still peaking when they were 22 years old, and the NFL liked that.”


Hawkeyes drafted from 2003-06

From 2003-06, a total of 17 Hawkeyes were taken in the NFL Draft. Those players were from the 2002 football team that went undefeated in the Big Ten and played in the Orange Bowl. Here is a look at each player and where they were picked:

2003 first round: Dallas Clark, Indianapolis, TE
2003 second round: Eric Steinbach, Cincinnati, OL; Bruce Nelson, Carolina, C
2003 fifth round: Bruce Nelson, Carolina, C; Derek Pagel, N.Y. Jets, DB; Ben Sobieski, Buffalo, OL

2004 first round: Robert Gallery, Oakland, OL
2004 second round: Bob Sanders, Indianapolis DB
2004 third round: Nate Kaeding, San Diego, PK
2004 seventh round: Jared Clauss, Tennessee, DL; Erik Jensen, St. Louis, TE

2005 second round: Matt Roth, Miami, DE; Jonathan Babineaux, Atlanta, DL
2005 fourth round: Sean Considine, Philadelphia, DB
2005 sixth round: Tony Jackson, Seattle, TE; Pete McMahon, Oakland, OL

2006 first round: Chad Greenway, Minnesota, LB
2006 third round: Abdul Hodge, Green Bay, LB


More details on the Hawkeye draft picks:


Dallas Clark, first round (24th overall), Indianapolis Colts: Tight end with 474 career receptions for 5,322 yards and 50 touchdowns.

Eric Steinbach, second round, Cincinnati Bengals: Offensive lineman who spent nine years in the league, eight as a starter.

Bruce Nelson, second round, Carolina Panthers: Emmetsburg native blossomed as Hawkeyes center. Hip injuries shortened NFL career to two seasons.

Derek Pagel, fifth round, New York Jets: Played in 19 games as defensive back for the Jets. Also spent time with the Dallas Cowboys.

Ben Sobieski, fifth round, Buffalo Bills: Offensive lineman spent time with the Bills and San Francisco 49ers, but was hampered by injuries.


Robert Gallery, first round (2nd overall), Oakland Raiders: Started 103 of 104 career games as an offensive lineman, ending with Seattle in 2011.

Bob Sanders, second round, Indianapolis Colts: Named to Pro Bowl in 2005 and ’07 as a safety, finishing with six career interceptions.

Nate Kaeding, third round, San Diego Chargers: Converted 181 out of 210 field goals (86.2 percent), fourth-best in NFL history.

Jared Clauss, seventh round, Tennessee Titans: Defensive tackle from West Des Moines Valley made 13 tackles in 15 games during the 2005 season.

Erik Jensen, seventh round, St. Louis Rams: Tight end pent time with San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Cincinnati.


Matt Roth, second round, Miami Dolphins: Recorded 23 ½ career sacks while splitting his career at defensive end and outside linebacker.

Jonathan Babineaux, second round, Atlanta Falcons: A stalwart on the defensive line, recording 22 ½ sacks and 215 career tackles.

Sean Considine, fourth round, Philadelphia Eagles: Safety has four career interceptions and six fumble recoveries.

Tony Jackson, sixth round, Seattle Seahawks: Former Hawkeye tight end lettered in ’02, before spending brief time in professional ranks.

Pete McMahon, sixth round, Oakland Raiders: Another letter-winner from the Orange Bowl season, who spent time with several NFL teams.


Chad Greenway, first round (17th overall), Minnesota Vikings: Linebacker made a career-best 108 tackles in 2010, and 96 last season.

Abdul Hodge, third round, Green Bay Packers: Linebacker played in 35 games for Packers, Bengals and Panthers.


Note: This list does not include free agent signees such as receiver C.J. Jones and tailback Fred Russell.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football, Photos

About Andrew Logue: Andrew has been with the Des Moines Register for 19 years, covering everything from preps to Hawkeye and Cyclone sports, as well as the Drake Relays. View author profile.

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