As the Iowa Hawkeyes prepare for off-season training, we thought it might be a fun exercise to ‘rate' the players by positional grouping.
We are only going to rate the starters plus one or two backups. I supposed we could rate each and every player in a grouping, but we do not want to turn this series into anything that might be considered a negative. For instance, it would not be a great thing to be the 10th best rated OL on the team unless you were an under classmen.
Speaking of offensive linemen, they will be the first group that we rate. Though ‘potential' is not going to be a huge factor here, as we are trying to rate the players on their current abilities or what we expect to see come September, there may be a few exceptions. We are also going to assume that David Walker will be healthy and ready to go, as the most recent medical report stated.
OFFENSIVE LINE PLAYER RANKINGS
#1: PETE MCMAHON
This was actually tougher than it might seem. Not because McMahon is not a talented lineman, because he is. It's just that our #2 selection oozes promise and ability at such a young age.
But in the end, the 6-foot-7, 333-pound man they call ‘Silent Rage' appears to be the best of the ‘Big Uglies' for your 2004 Hawkeyes.
He has everything you would want in a starting lineman. He clearly has the size, he can move well, he is versatile enough to play guard or tackle and he just keeps getting better with every game he plays. Plus, he will be a fifth year senior and has had one full season as a starter.
If McMahon stays healthy, he will hear his name get called in the 2005 NFL draft.
#2: MIKE JONES
At the end of the 2004 season, there is a chance that Jones could be on equal footing with McMahon as the #1 linemen for the Hawkeyes. The 6-5, 305-pounder started midway through the season as a true freshman. He too got better with each and every game. Keep in mind that he has had 30 more practices since the end of the 2003 regular season, what with Iowa's bowl prep and the Spring season, so he will not look like your average sophomore next fall.
There was some speculation that Mike Jones would end up leaving Iowa early had he redshirted, because he was a quick study with amazing gifts. If he has the type of year in 2004 that we expect out of him, and if he stays healthy, he may well be on his way to having the opportunity to leave college for the NFL after his third year of college, which would be after the 2005 season. We still expect him to be around for 2006, but this kid is just that good. There are some players that you just know about…Mike Jones is one of those players.
#3: DAVID WALKER
Here is where things get a bit tricky. When healthy, Walker is a great guard for the Hawkeyes. Iowa recruited him out of high school, but he chose to play for Auburn. After redshirting his freshman year, he transferred to Iowa where he sat out the 2002 season.
So when he took his first collegiate snap in last season's home opener against Miami of Ohio, he was two years removed from having played in any type of game, and that was at the high school level. So he had some rust to shake off.
Once he hit his stride, he was solid to devastating at times…but that time was short lived, as he suffered an injury, missed some games, and never really fully recovered the rest of the season, as nagging injuries took their toll.
Then in February, Walker ruptured his Achilles and missed Spring practice. Doctors said in February that he should be good to go for Fall drills.
IF that is the case, then the Hawkeye offensive line will be in good shape. Walker will still have some more rust to shake off, but things will seem much slower to him, as he has some experience under his belt.
#4: LEE GRAY
Gray is an intriguing player. He spent last season as the understudy to Robert Gallery at left tackle. Gallery missed a handful of meaningful snaps last year, so Gray did not get a chance to play when the bullets were flying. He also made the move from the defensive line to offensive line in the spring of 2003.
So to say that he is untested is being kind.
However, the people that I have spoken with have nothing but glowing things to say about Gray and they feel that his upside potential is great. Lee is another bigun who possesses great footwork. When you have a right-handed quarterback, left tackle is the ‘jewel' of the line, as that player protects the quarterback's blind side on pass plays.. Were Gray not so talented, McMahon could have made the move to LT for 2004. But the Iowa coaching staff sees enough in Gray to pencil him in at LT.
Gray is another player that by midseason could be much higher on this list. His growth, along with the growth of Mike Jones, will be huge factors as to how many wins the 2004 Iowa Hawkeyes will be able to put up.
#5: MIKE ELGIN
You have five starters, so Elgin comes in at ‘the bottom'. But if things go as the Iowa coaching staff expects, there really will be no ‘lowest rung' on the Iowa offensive line.
When Brian Ferentz was lost for the season back in February due to an infection in his leg, many faithful Hawkeye fans were very concerned about the center position, and rightfully so.
Eric Rothwell stepped in nicely for Ferentz last year, and Mike Elgin was the team's #2 for the Outback Bowl.
But unbeknownst to us, Elgin was pushing Rothwell for top honors at that time.
Elgin is a smart cookie, both on and off the field. The center is responsible for recognizing the defensive line formation and calling out blocking schemes for his mates on the O Line. It's a cerebral position and one that calls for excellent technique.
Kirk Ferentz feels that he has all of that in Elgin.
Elgin lacks playing experience and some lead in his caboose. Ferentz said after the Spring game that he expects Elgin to come in near 280 to 285 pounds this fall, and he added that "that will be plenty big enough."
Excellent technique can overcome a bit of a size shortfall, and Elgin has the potential. When he committed to Iowa late in the recruiting season a few years back, there were whispers that he could be a center in waiting.
Ferentz told some of his assistant coaches this winter that Elgin has a chance to be a very good center. Some of them were not so sure. But after the Spring sessions, those assistants are no longer doubting Elgin.
BEST OF THE REST
I say this with all due respect to the backup linemen as things stand now, but I really hope that we don't see any of them play in 2004, save for mop up duty.
That statement has less to do with ability and more to do with the fact that if they do not play, that means that there were no injuries, Walker was able to step in right away and Jones, Elgin and Gray lived up to expectations.
Ben Gates made the move from tight end to offensive line this spring and was doing battle with Ben Cronin for the #1 guard position, as Walker was on the shelf. Blake Larsen was listed as the backup for Jones at left guard. CJ Barkema was listed as Gray's backup at left tackle, with Chris Felder as McMahon's backup.
Felder has been battling injuries for some time, and broke his collarbone this spring. That was on top of neck stinger issues he has been dealing with for some time. Barkema dealt with a bad back last year, and Larsen had dual lateral release surgery on his knees.
Don't rule out Nyere Aumaitre or Seth Olsen getting into the mix in the fall. If they make a splash, it will likely be at the guard position, which is ‘easier' to learn than the tackle positions. Walk on center Todd Plagman showed promise this spring, and Ferentz mentioned him by name. When Kirk does that, my ears perk up. I also learned this spring that Plagman indeed turned some heads in practice.
If any of the backups make their way into the season ending power rankings, I hope that it is due to their excellent play as opposed to being called upon as the ‘next man in.' It would just mean good news for the Hawkeyes.
In my estimation, a shot at another BCS bowl game or a trp to San Antonio or the Music City rests squarely on the considerable backs of Iowa's offensive line.