Iowa Tackles Getting Closer to Top Form

It's been a tough couple of weeks for Iowa's standout tackle Bryan Bulaga. He and opposite tackle Calloway are playing catch-up after missing most of training camp.

The critical message board posts surfaced throughout the first half of Saturday's Iowa game at Wisconsin. Some folks were calling for Bryan Bulaga to be pulled out of the lineup.

Badger defensive end O'Brian Schofield was embarrassing the Hawkeye left tackle and the rest of his line mates. Bulaga also struggled the week before against Michigan's Brandon Graham.

The scenes shocked many of the Hawkeye faithful, who bought into the offseason hype that said Bulaga could be a top pick in the NFL if he came out early after the 2009 campaign. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. pegged Bulaga as a Top 10 pick for '09 last April.

"Against Graham, I gave up a couple of sacks," Bulaga said. "This week, there were a couple of things that (Schofield) beat me on. It's progressively cleaning things up, playing different guys and seeing different things.

"As much as you don't want to say it, game speed is different than going in practice against scout team guys. I played two good ends the last two weeks in Graham and Schofield. It's about seeing different things. Obviously, I've seen things the last two weeks. That's going to help me out tremendously."

Iowa's tackles were expected to be a strength of this team coming into the season. Bulaga, a true junior, and Kyle Calloway, s fifth-year senior, were experienced veterans.

The injuries hit in August camp. Both guys missed a lot of the preseason. Calloway then was suspended for the opener for an off-the-field transgression and Bulaga missed three games after being diagnosed with a thyroid illness.

"I think they are behind," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I think we are seeing when they do struggle, it hasn't been that much, but they are not at midseason form yet. We are working through it.

"(Bulaga) and Kyle missed significant time in camp, to the point where I don't remember them being out there. I am sure they were for a while. That is why camp is so important; players get their timing down and smooth things out.

"The amount of work you do in season is minimal compared to what you do in camp and they are both playing catch up. I think they are both close to getting where we want to get and that will help us."

When a team is 7-0 for only the second time in program history, you don't like to pick nits. But Bulaga and Calloway were playing at such a high level by the end of the '08 season, their bumps in the road this year stick out.

"Every week you practice you get back kind of what you lost," Bulaga said. "In shape wise, I feel pretty good, but your body feels a little bit different when you're out there in games. I'm still getting back into game shape.

"From a mental standpoint, I feel great. I feel great about everything. It's physically just getting those reps back and getting comfortable with things again. That's a big deal in me making mistakes out there, which are pretty obvious. I don't feel completely out of sync."

Despite the offseason hype surrounding Bulaga, he realizes that he's a work in progress. This is only his third fall on campus.

"I made mistakes last year, too," Bulaga said. "If you watched the tape of last year, I made mistakes. It's just a matter of cleaning up the little things. As I get more reps in practice, that's going to come."

The difficulty with early season injuries is that there are no quick fixes to get a player caught up.

"You can take them out Sunday and practice, but now you are being counter productive," Ferentz said. "I am a big one in season, where you have to be careful with the amount of activity players have.

"They are experienced, however. It's more devastating when a younger player gets hurt in camp because it's tough to catch up because they don't have any baseline to catch up to. Both Bryan and Kyle have that."

A positive sign going forward is the way Iowa adjusted to Schofield and the Wisconsin defense last Saturday.

"The second half was a lot better than the first half," Bulaga said. "We struggled in the first half, but at halftime we cleaned up a lot of stuff. We came out a different offensive line in the second half and really put together some things."

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