Posted by: marcmwm | March 19, 2009

Four downs with the O-line

QUICK LOOK BACK: Rob Bruggeman went from walk-on to torn ACL/MCL to “who’s that

Caption: Iowa's Julian Vandervelde watches as a flamingo nnibbles on his hair during a photo opportunity as they visit Busch Gardens on Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008, in Tampa. Laughing at background right is Allen Reisner. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Caption: Iowa's Julian Vandervelde watches as a flamingo nnibbles on his hair during a photo opportunity as they visit Busch Gardens on Sunday, Dec. 28, 2008, in Tampa. Laughing at background right is Allen Reisner. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

 guy” to all-Big Ten center and possible NFL draft pick. Seth Olsen became a fully matured 310-pound fifth-year senior and found a true home at right guard. Bryan Bulaga made a quiet and extremely successful transition from left guard to left tackle, where Kirk Ferentz saw him all along. Julian Vandervelde finally claimed left guard and became more aggressive and polished as the year went on. Mt. Kyle Calloway (6-7, 320) went from “in too early because Dace Richardson’s injury” to all-Big Ten caliber. The ’08 line included two fifth-year seniors (Bruggeman and Olsen), a fourth-year junior (Calloway), a third-year sophomore (Vandervelde) and a true sophomore (Bulaga) who went into the season with five starts under his belt. Looking back, it wasn’t a group with a great deal of experience but it did have maturity. That showed up physically and mentally.

FOURTH DOWN — CONCERNS: In college football, maturity expires rather quickly. Bruggeman and Olsen and their fifth-year senior bodies are gone. They bought into strength coach Chris Doyle’s program and it paid off in shots at the NFL. Bruggeman leaves as Iowa’s strongest center and one of the strongest O-linemen in the Ferentz era. 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 perform 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 Eric 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 have that guy?

Fifth-year seniors Dan Doering and Andy Kuempel will get looks. Redshirt freshman Riley Reiff could break through the way Bulaga did as a true freshman. Sophomore Adam Gettis could be a serious contender.

SECOND DOWN — ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS: Redshirt freshman James Ferentz might be your starting center next season. You know he’s going to be ready mentally. Physically, he looked to be pushing 270 in December. If he’s within striking distance of 280 or comfortably in the 270s (even after a hot practice with a lot of sweat), then expect James Ferentz to make a serious lunge at the job. I don’t think it’s going to be an automatic handoff to senior Rafael Eubanks. Don’t count out junior walk-on Josh Koeppel, who’ll also be pushing 270.

Reiff is in play this year. Does he hang out as a backup tackle, probably behind Calloway, or does he find his way to the field as a guard, the same way Bulaga did two years ago as a true freshman?

Other newbies who might figure in: Gettis (who’s kind of a newbie, at least in regards to contending for playing time), redshirt freshman Casey McMillan (who’s kinda famous over here), sophomore Marcus Zusevics, junior walk-on Kyle Haganman. I imagine that’d go guard, guard, potential tackle and tackle.

Iowa coaches restocked the O-line with five recruits in February. I see them all taking redshirts, with Nolan MacMillan being a possible exception. Conor Boffeli, Drew Clark, Matt Murphy and Brett Van Sloten give Iowa 19 O-linemen (including Richardson) on the depth chart.

Eighteen players. That’s why we find ourselves talking about O-line so much.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot about Dace Richardson. I still can’t fathom a full return, but if it’d happen, what a story and, oh, the possibilities.

SECOND DOWN — STRENGTHS: Bulaga and Calloway should be one of the Big Ten’s better and more experienced tackle combos. When the people sent out feelers for midseason all-Americans last fall, I sent a paragraph on Bulaga. Can’t remember exactly what I wrote to them, but I sincerely believe he’s that caliber. I remember him getting beat once or twice last season. Strong and tough, he’s got everything you want in a left tackle. It takes three days to run around Calloway. He has a wingspan that will get him a strong look in next April’s draft.

The coaching team of Kirk Ferentz and Reese Morgan is a strength. This year, their challenge is to develop the inside trio to within cell phone range of last year’s. There are plenty of bodies, and it’ll likely come down to a pair of fifth-year seniors, Doering and Kuempel.

Depth should be a strength. Remember, 19 bodies — and at least 16 scholarships — are piled into this.

FIRST DOWN — THE PLAY: Tackles are set, let’s take a quick look at the inside. Center, it’s up in the air. This one is worth watching this spring (‘cept there’s no spring game). Could it be Vandervelde? He mentioned the possibility after the bowl. He’s a smart kid and is built more like a center. That depends on how capable coaches feel Doering and Kuempel can be. Doering was derailed by a broken wrist suffered in camp last season. Kuempel filled in capably when Olsen sprained an ankle, but then he suffered a shoulder injury that was serious enough to keep him on the sidelines for bowl practices. It’s likely that he had a surgery and a rehab. Will he participate this spring?

You’ve heard Iowa coaches say “best five” season in, season out. That is how they do it.

Check this quote from Vandervelde: “We don’t pick starters before the year starts. 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.”

Whoever the five are. I’ll post my five in comments. Please, give me yours.

The starters — Bulaga, Vandervelde, Ferentz, Doering, Calloway

Next — Reiff, Gettis, Eubanks, McMillan, Zusevics

Incoming — Van Sloten, Clark, Boffeli, Murphy, MacMillan

Surprise — Vandervelde lines up as your center for the next two seasons. Reiff steps into a starting role in ’09.

Caption: Iowa offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga (79, right) celebrates a touchdown by Jewel Hampton (27, bottom) during the fourth quarter of the Hawkeyes' 45-9 win over the Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind., on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008.

Caption: Iowa offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga (79, right) celebrates a touchdown by Jewel Hampton (27, bottom) during the fourth quarter of the Hawkeyes' 45-9 win over the Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind., on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2008.



  1. I really enjoy your work. You seem like you have a lot of insight. What happen to Eubanks in your starting line up? Is he going to transfer?

  2. I can see JV @ C as well. Big, smart kid who will make the right calls and keep everyone together.

    The OL will be just fine IMO.

  3. And completey off topic, Alford just blew a late lead at Notre Dame and lost on a last secnd layup.

    Some things never change…..

  4. I think Doering can be an all big ten guard hes really good, i think he is iowa 2nd or 3rd best o lineman right now behind bulaga then with calloway

  5. Good stuff, Marc.

    I have no idea who will start, but I would be thrilled for Dace, and us fans, if he can make it back. He’s a fine young man and really deserves his shot.

  6. I see Kuempel and Doering at guard and Vandervelde at C. I think James Ferentz is a year away. It’d be nice to see Dace come in and have a nice year. It’d be nice if those big 3 from the ’05 class (Dace, Doering, and Moeaki) could finally stay healthy and put it all together.

  7. I’d be stunned if Dace ever sees the field again, but I think Doering can be really good. It’s taken him forever to develop because of the injury problems, but he looked pretty good two years ago when he finally started getting some playing time and everyone knows how talented he is.

    I don’t think Vandervelde will line up at center, that just seems like messing with a good thing. He really came into his own last year at guard.

    All and all, I’m not worried about the O-line next year. There’s plenty of good depth on the inside, and I’m hard-pressed to think of a better tackle combo in the country. Bulaga is easily Iowa’s best lineman since Gallery, and Calloway has improved a ton.

  8. Hey Russ, I don’t think Eubanks can transfer. He’s got one year to play one as a fifth-year senior. He states his case at Iowa, I assume.

  9. E, I agree on JV at center. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I like that.

    And yes, some things never change.

  10. Erik, I want to see a healthy Doering. I think he could be third best, but I want to see him healthy.

    Paul, couldn’t agree more.

    Josh, doesn’t Vandervelde at center make sense? I think it could fall that way, depending on James Ferentz’s readiness, which I expect will be pretty high.

    Adam, do you think replacing Olsen and Bruggeman is a bigger deal than replacing King and Kroul? I think it is. That said, I still see this group as a strength, maybe the strength of the team. Lots of fifth-year seniors with chips on their shoulders.

  11. It’s close, but no. There are more obvious candidates for replacements at guard and center than at DT, I think. Plus, while Iowa is really good at reloading on the defensive line, players as good as King are hard to find.

  12. You’re probably right, Adam.

    Ferentz always makes the analogy to basketball. In recruiting, finding a 6-4, 300 DT is like finding a 7-footer who can run the court in hoops.

    Hard to find. Maybe that explains the Iowa model — smaller, quicker, athletic DTs.

  13. […] Four downs with the O-line. […]

  14. I think James Ferenz just lost his job as a starter after his arrest a couple days ago. I played ball in High School with Eubanks while he was playing Center, i know he’s been in the mix a couple times between center and guards, but i could see him maybe starting? Unless they wanna go with a younger player and try to work his way up to being a stud in 3 years at center, which i can see

  15. […] Riley Reiff, welcome to the first team O-line (at least for now). Gosh, who wrote that back in March? OK, OK, I didn’t exactly put it on a billboard. Reiff is shown here with C Rafael Eubanks. […]

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