Of course, you know that ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg has been ranking his top 30 players in the Big Ten for the upcoming season.
Rittenberg mentions some of the Big Ten’s other top O-linemen, but then writes, “but right now Bulaga is in a league of his own. He’s the Big Ten’s top left tackle and a player who will be on the NFL draft radar very soon.”
I’m sure that last bit made Iowa fans run a little cold, but it’s true and it’s not a bad thing. A high NFL draft pick and a fat contract tend to get notice from recruits. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper said here that Bulaga’s a likely a high pick next year. He’ll only be a junior next year, but that’s the projection thing working in overdrive.
Bulaga up until now, goes like this:
Dropped his redshirt right away in the first game of his career, against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field. He suffered a shoulder injury in practice and didn’t show up again until six weeks later when he replaced Travis Meade at left guard before the Purdue game. He started the final five games of ’07.
Then, during the winter of ’08, when college football life is considerably less glamorous, with the lifting and conditioning, Bulaga got a tap on the shoulder.
That’s when Bulaga, as a 6-foot-6, 301-pound sophomore, found out coach Kirk Ferentz wanted him to give left offensive tackle a try. When you get to the major-college level, left offensive tackle is a big deal. It’s a big-money position in the NFL, with a left tackle’s ability to protect a right-handed quarterback’s blindside drawing millions in contracts. The big names make in the range of $20 million a season.
So, yeah, you’re lifting and sweating and then your coach, who’s a renowned offensive line coach in NFL circles, asks if you want to play left tackle.
“I was definitely up for it,” Bulaga said.
“When I was recruited, I just wanted to go where I could help out,” said Bulaga, a Parade Magazine All-American as a senior at Marian (Ill.) Central Catholic.
“Of course in the back of my mind, that’s where I wanted to play (left tackle),” he said. “Now I’m getting the opportunity and I’m very grateful for that. I’m going to make the most of it. But when I was getting recruited, anywhere would’ve been fine with me.”
The biggest difference at left tackle is pass protection. Guards usually have help on the inside. Left tackles are pretty much one-on-one with the other team’s best pass rusher.
“Getting used to it again in camp has been a bit of a challenge, but I feel I’m doing it well,” Bulaga said.
He’s done just fine with it.
There are four more selections left in Rittenberg’s series, so maybe there’s room yet for DE Adrian Claybor, but then again, maybe not. I think that’d be the only omission on the Iowa front.