Still cleaning out the Outback notebook. I posted a lot of this as a comment, but might as well make it a bona fide post.
I’ve been saying all year long that I thought the inside trio of blockers on Iowa’s O-line this season was among the best three in the Ferentz era. I’d go 2002′s Eric Steinbach, Bruce Nelson, Andy Lightfoot No. 1 and then it’s this year’s Seth Olsen, Rob Bruggeman and Julian Vandervelde right there with Mike Jones, Brian Ferentz and Mike Elgin.
Olsen and Bruggeman were fully aged fifth-year seniors who completely bought into the weightroom mentality. Bruggeman leaves as Iowa’s strongest center and on of the strongest O-linemen in the Ferentz era. So, their bodies were matured and that matters a lot on the line of scrimmage. Also, they knew the plays. Five years in the system, I’m sure that bought coaches some flexibility. I’m sure they could do more complex schemes, like the one that sprung Shonn Greene for his second long run against Wisconsin, sort of a delayed block thingie on Bruggeman’s part.
I think the inside trio was critical this season and that’s why I believe Olsen and Bruggeman might be harder to replace than four-year starters at DT, Mitch King and Matt Kroul.
I don’t see anyone with the same power on the inside (though, I think Vandervelde — 6-3, 300 — will be there next year), BUT that’s not a bad thing. You have power guys and you have Steinbach guys, 6-foot-7 guys who don’t miss blocks on the second level because they have such great footwork. (BTW, Steinbach is a former Iowa all-American and now a Cleveland Brown and pretty wealthy).
Does Iowa even have that guy?
After splitting time with Dan Doering last season, Vandervelde was the left guard for the majority this year, starting the last nine games. He’s a lockdown at one of the guard spots. (Tackles Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway aren’t going anywhere, either.)
Can he predict the other two spots, center and right guard?
“We don’t pick starters before the year starts,” he said. “We’ll go into spring ball and probably all the way through summer and into camp with everybody battling for the starting spots.
“I may be here. I may be on the right. I may be a center. They might throw me out at tackle if they really feel like it. Whoever the five are who come out next year, I know we’re going to step up to the challenge.”
Bruggeman talked about some of the competition at center.
“Maybe Josh Koeppel (a 265-pound sophomore walk-on center), he needs to gain some weight and I give him crap about that everyday,” Bruggeman said. “(Redshirt freshman) James Ferentz is actually a pretty good player coming up. There’s (Kyle, 6-5, 277-pound junior) Haganman. Of course, there’s Raf and Kuempel and Dan. There are guys who are going to step in and do well.”
I think this was the first season in a while that competition made Iowa’s offensive line not only better but way better. I think some of the races were close. The guys who won their spots fought to keep them.
Here’s my early call for ’09:
LT — Bulaga, jr., 6-6, 301 (No brainer, I didn’t even use my brain for that.)
LG — Dan Doering, sr., 6-6, 300 (If he can be Steinbach-esque, not Steinbach, but esque. Could be a key player next year. Remember, a broken wrist at the end of camp pretty much cost him this season.)
C — Julian Vandervelde, jr., 6-3, 300 (Shocked, right? He kinda mentioned it after the game. I like the idea. He’s one of the most cerebral players around. Plus, there’s this: http://www.littleleague.org/media/newsarchive/2007stories/07vandevelde_julian.htm)
– OR –
C — Rafael Eubanks, sr., 6-3, 285 (Started just five games this year. Didn’t see meaningful minutes after Illinois. He can grab his senior season by the horns or not. Ball’s in his court.)
RG — Andy Kuempel, sr., 6-7, 300 (I think he has a big fifth year and gets on the NFL radar, pending the shoulder. He did something pretty bad to it at Illinois and shut it down for the season. He spent all of bowl practice in a sling. This will keep him out of upper body workouts, I imagine, for some time this winter. Coach Ferentz didn’t mention anything about surgery, but Kuempel was ruled out of the bowl game pretty quickly after the end of the season.)
RT — Kyle Calloway, sr., 6-7, 317 (He has positioned himself to be a dominant Big Ten player next season. He drew a lot of tough assignments this year, including Aaron Maybin and held his own.)
Second unit (This was tougher)
LT — Riley Reiff, fr., 6-6, 270 (This kid looks like a baller. Maybe he breaks in at guard, similar to Bulaga.)
LG — Adam Gettis, so., 6-4, 270 (He’s 10 to 15 pounds away. Coaches like his progress.)
C — James Ferentz, fr., 6-2, 260 (I can’t believe how much he’s filled out. I’m guessing he’ll be pushing a legit 280 before next season.)
RG — Casey McMillan, fr., 6-4, 295 (I hope he develops the punch to be a mauler, in the same way Olsen was. Sometimes, when a freshman comes in at or near 300, there’s some re-making of the body. I don’t know if that’s the case with McMillan.)
RT — Kyle Haganman, jr., 6-5, 277 (I can’t tell you how many times bowl week I saw Iowa players coming off the field and I asked myself, who’s No. 69? Haganman, a walk-on, might have a say in this.)
Another guy who might have a say is Dace Richardson, who’s been out two seasons with knee problems. He gave a very positive update from Tampa. I posted that here, http://marcmwm.wordpress.com/2008/12/30/richardson-targets-spring/.