Here’s the offensive line story.
If you’ve followed Kirk Ferentz’s news conference with regularity, you know that he’s made quite a few jokes about the anonymity of the left guard position.
This year, it really is sort of a question mark. Right now (Wednesday night), I think you’re looking at Rafael Eubanks, who’s making the transition after starting at center last season. Senior Rob Bruggeman has earned the center spot, while Eubanks gets guard over Julian Vandervelde and Dan Doering, who sat out last Saturday’s scrimmage with what appeared to be an arm injury. (He had a brace on a wrist, can’t remember which.) Could Andy Kuempel end up here?
At this point, I’m not sure Ferentz is in a joking mood about left guard.
Here’s a story on the O-line:
Olsen big factor in O-line comeback
By Marc Morehouse
(Liz Martin/The Gazette)
University of Iowa offensive lineman Seth Olsen (71) during football media day on Aug. 4.
IOWA CITY — Seth Olsen is about three months into married life. So far, so good.
“I love to be married, man,” the University of Iowa senior said. “It’s great to be able to come home and spend time with my best friend, whenever we get the chance.”
Now, the offensive lineman is looking for the same bliss on the field.
During the ’07 season, Iowa’s offensive line endured the marriage equivalent of a messy divorce with custody battles over everything from socks to golf clubs. The numbers that hit home the most are the 46 sacks (a Big Ten high), 3.5 yards a carry (a Big Ten low) and two key injuries (tackle Dace Richardson and center Rob Bruggeman).
“I never felt like jumping off a bridge last year,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “None of us were happy with the production, but we earned it. But I think if you looked at it logically, intelligently, boy, there might be some reasons for that (the injuries).”
At this point, they are numb to the numbers.
“Everybody in the room knows the numbers. You guys are really helpful with that,” Iowa offensive line coach Reese Morgan said to the media on media day. “We don’t feel good about it. We’re not happy about it. We know we need to move forward and get better.”
In a lot of ways, Olsen, a 6-foot-5, 305-pounder, is the fulcrum for what the Hawkeyes hope will be a turnaround season up front.
He took his lumps early in his career, specifically one tough afternoon against Iowa State’s Jason Berryman in the Cyclones’ 23-3 victory over Iowa in 2005. But he’s grown into a three-year starter, with 23 career starts under his belt.
“He’s really got a good relationship with the other players,” Morgan said. “He’s earned their respect. He’s good at helping the other guys along. From that standpoint, he’s a leader. He would admit that he can certainly improve upon things. Late in the season, he didn’t play as well as he could’ve. He’s committed to correcting that.”
After starting 11 games at right tackle last season, Olsen has been moved inside to right guard, where Iowa coaches hope to use his size and strength.
Olsen thinks if the line can find consistency, that will help quarterback Jake Christensen be more consistent, help the running game be a consistent factor and so on, with consistency being the theme.
“Even the times we did give (Christensen) protection, it was a new thing for him,” Olsen said. “He wasn’t used to that, so he might’ve gotten a little more antsy than he normally would’ve been.
“He needs to expect more consistency out of us. We need to be more consistent with our protection and giving him time. Obviously, 46 sacks is a ridiculous number.”
Now, it’s impossible to say for sure who the other four starters will be.
In mid-August, the depth chart had Olsen and Julian Vandervelde and/or Dan Doering at guard, Kyle Calloway and/or Bryan Bulaga at tackles and Rob Bruggeman and/or Rafael Eubanks at center.
The bad news: There seems to be a lot of uncertainty. The good news: There is a lot of competition.
“(The depth chart) is written in very light pencil, a light lead No. 2 pencil that can be erased easily,” Morgan said. “We’ll have eight to 10 guys competing for the five spots.”
The married guy is the constant. Olsen, who met his wife, the former Christi Corporan, on Facebook.com, is a terrific mix of leadership, intelligence and experience. He is a sounding board for just about everything.
His status among his peer O-linemen showed when he got married this spring at the Amana Colonies Golf Course. Several current and former Hawkeyes were in the wedding party. Eubanks and backup tight end Michael Sabers were groomsmen. Bruggeman was an usher.
“The thing about Seth is he’s way ahead of his years in maturity, knowledge, spirituality,” Eubanks said. “He’s a guy I’ve always looked up to, from our first year here, and I still look up to him now. He’s so knowledgeable in football and life. He’s someone you can go to, no matter the problem, he’ll listen to you.”
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Breaking down the offensive line
Seth Olsen Hawkeye senior
Center: Rob Bruggeman, sr., 6-3, 287; Rafael Eubanks, jr., 6-3, 285; Josh Koeppel, so., 6-1, 265
Guards: (left) Julian Vandervelde, so., 6-3, 300; Dan Doering, jr., 6-6, 300; Adam Gettis, fr., 6-4, 270; (right) Seth Olsen, sr., 6-5, 305; Travis Meade, jr., 6-2, 285
Tackles: (left) Bryan Bulaga, so., 6-6, 301; Andy Kuempel, jr., 6-7, 300; Kyle Haganman, so., 6-5, 277; (right) Kyle Calloway, jr., 6-7, 317; Wesley Aeschliman, sr., 6-8, 318
INSIDE THE HUDDLE
Sophomore guard Julian Vandervelde, one of the team’s most thoughtful interviewees, has been taken off the blackout list. Last season, before Iowa’s game with Iowa State, Vandervelde professed his hatred of the “entity that is Iowa State” in an interview. That put him and all red-shirt freshmen off limits for interviews, a practice carried over for red-shirt and true freshmen this season.
“I was on hiatus for a while there,” Vandervelde said. “It wasn’t that big of a deal to me. I thought it was kind of funny.”
The offensive line class of ’05 came in with a lot of fanfare. Dace Richardson, Dan Doering, Rafael Eubanks, Kyle Calloway and Andy Kuempel had multiple offers. Richardson and Doering were U.S. Army All-Americans. The production hasn’t matched the fanfare, but this season, the ’05 class could fill four of the five spots, with Eubanks and Doering facing battles at their positions. Richardson would’ve locked down left tackle, but chronic knee problems have ended his career.
Offensive line coach Reese Morgan was asked about the 46 sacks allowed last year and if the unit had an acceptable number in mind, “I tell you what, zero would be a heck of a goal,” Morgan said. “That’s what everybody wants. I think the word eliminate or reduce (is better).”
THE HEAT OF COMPETITION
Morgan says all five positions are up in the air, but realistically it’s more like two or maybe three.
Olsen is a lock at guard or maybe tackle. Bruggeman is looking more and more like the starter at center. Bulaga has a spot waiting at tackle or guard. That leaves right guard and one of the tackle spots, though Calloway has the inside track at tackle.
“Every day you have to go out and give your best,” said Doering, who’s doing battle with Vandervelde at left guard. “That’s something Coach Morgan tells us all the time. The two-deeps could change any moment and you’ve just got to go out and give your best effort.”
HAWKEYES BOWL IF …
The offensive line avoids injury and snaps out of the slump it went into last season. Iowa produced a 100-yard rusher in just three games last year.
HAWKEYES HOME IF …
This unit doesn’t hold up its end of the deal. Even if the O-line takes a hit in the injury department, can it use that as an excuse? On media day, the depth, competition and a pool of 10 possible starters was talked up. That says there’s depth. Performance is front and center, and the O-line is in the crosshairs.
— Marc Morehouse