Countdown to Kickoff: The Offensive Line

Football is a game that is one from the inside out. You have to control the point of attack at the line of scrimmage if you are going to contend for a Big Ten title. Iowa's offensive line is in a bit of a retooling mode this year & the players that are now on campus will be around in 2008 as well. So the future is now and it will be around for a while. Here's a look at the 2007 offensive line.

On Monday, we looked at some aspects of the 2007 Roster.  We continue to delve deeper into the roster, with a focus on the offensive line, a unit that is in a bit of flux as we head into the 2007 season, but a unit that will be together this year and next, as there are no seniors in the two deep roster.


First, let's list the names of the players we expect to be in the mix once fall camp opens in three weeks:


51            Tyler Blum                             6-6/285   SO           2nd team LT after spring

52            Rafael Eubanks                     6-3/285   SO           1st team C after spring

55            Nyere Aumaitre                    6-5/295   JR            Not listed on depth chart   

58            Rob Bruggeman                   6-3/287   JR            Injured

60            Kyle Calloway                      6-7/305   SO           1st team RT after spring

61            Travis Meade                       6-2/285   SO           2nd team C after spring

63            Julian Vandervelde              6-3/295   RS FR     2nd team RG after spring

68            Andy Kuempel                     6-7/295   SO           2nd team LT after spring

71            Seth Olsen                             6-5/305   JR            1st team RG after spring

74            Dan Doering                         6-6/300   SO           2nd team LG after spring

75            Wesley Aeschliman            6-8/318   JR            co-2nd team RT after spring

76            Alex Kanellis                         6-4/295   JR            co-2nd team RT after spring

78            Dace Richardson                  6-6/305   JR            1st team LT after spring

79            Bryan Bulaga                        6-6/290   FR           true freshman


Again, you can see that each of the players will have at least two more years of eligibility, for this season and again in 2008.  It's doubtful that Rob Bruggeman will play this year, as he blew out a knee during spring drills.  That was a big blow, because he was probably one of the top three linemen on the team, and certainly one of the top two interior linemen, based on late fall practice reports, bowl prep reports, off season workouts and the spring work that he did get in.


As we mentioned yesterday, don't rule out Bryan Bulaga into the mix this year.  I have said this before and will always say it; the only way that a true freshman offensive lineman sees the field is if there are serious injuries (as we saw in 2003 with Mike Jones burning his redshirt late in the year at Ohio State) or if the player is a freak of nature and has the physical and mental makeup to handle the position.  It's either a really good or really bad scenario, there is rarely a gray area.  Or at least, the gray area isn't one that you want to be in, because that means your program is in some state of rebuilding mode.  Iowa is not there right now.


As for this year's line, three players appear to be ‘locks' to start; Dace Richardson at left tackle, Rafael Eubanks at center and Seth Olsen at guard.  All three of these players were listed as starters after spring practice, in addition to Kyle Calloway at right tackle.  The official 2007 depth chart did not list a starting left guard.  That leaves one starting position ‘open', especially with Bruggeman on the shelf.  Had he been healthy, he would have been penciled in at one of the guard positions.   


But in reality, there are probably at least two starting slots open, with Calloway not having exactly slammed the door shut.  It also looks like Iowa will average about 300 pounds across the offensive line, whenever the ‘starting five' is finalized.


Travis Meade got his beak wet last year and he will challenge for one of the guard positions.  It's a very, very important fall for Dan Doering.  Again, then entire offensive line group is coming back in 2008, and you have to believe that Bulaga is going to have his nose right in the mix for a starting position in 2008 if not sooner.  Doering, a former US Army All American, has to step up and assert himself.  That being said, he is going into his third year on campus, his redshirt sophomore year.  In my opinion, if you can get two solid years of production out of an offensive lineman, that is a win.  To get three is a bonus.  It's just one of those positions where it can take a while for most players to get their legs underneath them.   If you recall, Bruce Nelson and Eric Steinbach got the snot beat out them before they were early second round draft picks in 2003.  Steinbach was  the highest paid interior lineman in the NFL when he signed his new deal this offseason.


Andy Kuempal needs to make a move this year as well to solidify his position in the pecking order going forward, as one can reasonably expect Bruggeman to be back next year and in the mix.  Wesley Aechilman is a name to watch, as he got some time last year.  Alex Kanellis' development as he makes the move from defensive line to offensive line is going to be a big time factor this year.  If he can make the move and play right tackle, that adds obvious depth to the equation. 


Right now, it's not exactly settling to find seven or eight players that you feel real, real solid about heading into the season.  That's a number that Iowa likes to be at, and I am sure they will find it.


That's one of the most anticipated questions for me each and every July; what offensive linemen made the big strides?


I spoke to Iowa Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Chris Doyle back in late May, and asked him if players and really make big strides between the end of spring and the start of fall practice.  Here is what he said:


"We have seen guys make significant improvements in the summer.  Often, it's dictated by the intensity and the commitment level of the athlete.  There have been guys like Dallas Clark, Aaron Kampman, guys through our program that have really changed themselves from spring ball to the season.   A lot of it falls on the athlete's commitment level.  Are they mature enough to make the right lifestyle choices, stay out of trouble, take care of their bodies and come in willing to give their best each day and when they do they make significant improvement."


Several ‘question marks' are going to be answered, one way or another, by players that are entering their third year on campus.  There has been enough time to ‘get committed', to put it into a Doyle parlance. 


We'll know the answers in about six or seven weeks.  As always, the waiting is the hardest part.



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