Spring superlatives: Iowa

The spring superlatives series marches on, as I take a look at the strongest position and weakest position for each Big Ten team entering spring practice.

Up next is Iowa, which returns 14 starters from a team that went 11-2 and won an Orange Bowl championship last season. The Hawkeyes are especially strong at defensive line, safety and the offensive skill spots, but they need to reload at offensive line and linebacker.

Strongest position: Defensive line

  • Key returnees: Defensive end Adrian Clayborn (70 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 9 quarterback hurries, 1 blocked kick); defensive end Broderick Binns (63 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 9 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 blocked kick); defensive tackle Karl Klug (65 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 5 passes defended); defensive tackle Christian Ballard (54 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 5 quarterback hurries).

  • Key losses: None

  • The skinny: The Hawkeyes will boast arguably the nation's best defensive line in 2010, as all four starters return from a group that changed games last fall. Clayborn should contend for All-America honors after being one of the Big Ten's most disruptive defenders last fall. Binns also changed games with several big plays, and all four men contributed to a defense that ranked 10th nationally in yards allowed (276.5 ypg) and eighth in points allowed (15.4). Depth is a mini concern entering 2010, but Iowa boasts so many playmakers among the starting four that it should be fine.

Weakest position: Offensive line

  • Key returnees: Tackle Riley Reiff, guard Julian Vandervelde

  • Key losses: Tackle Bryan Bulaga, guard Dace Richardson, center Rafael Eubanks, tackle Kyle Calloway

  • The skinny: Offensive line is undoubtedly the single biggest question mark for Iowa in 2010 as four players with significant starting experience depart, as well as a few reserves. The good news is head coach Kirk Ferentz has a good track record of filling gaps up front. Reiff emerged nicely during Bulaga's three-game absence in 2009 and will play a critical role in protecting quarterback Ricky Stanzi in 2010. Vandervelde also brings experience to the interior line, but Iowa needs more bodies there. Bulaga was the team's most decorated O-lineman, but Eubanks could end up being the toughest one to replace. Keep an eye on players like Josh Koeppel, Adam Gettis, Markus Zusevics and Kyle Haganman this spring.