TCU's offense last season was virtually unstoppable. The Horned Frogs ranked fifth in the country in scoring (41.5 ppg), 10th in rushing (247.4 ypg) and 12th in total offense (476.8 ypg). The offense's potency helped guide the team to an undefeated season and its first-ever Rose Bowl birth, where TCU defeated Wisconsin 21-19. In 2009 the numbers were even more impressive, with the team ranking fifth in the NCAA in scoring and rushing, and seventh in total offense.
The offensive line the past two seasons has been roundly praised as the core of the team's success, especially OT Marcus Cannon, a projected second-round pick in the upcoming draft. Yet it was the man in the middle, Jake Kirkpatrick, who was responsible for each and every offensive line call the past two seasons.
Kirkpatrick (6-2, 300) played basketball and baseball in high school, only picking up football his senior season. He was a natural from Day 1 though and was offered a scholarship at TCU. After two years playing mostly special teams, he earned the starting center spot for the Horned Frogs his junior year. In his first full collegiate season as a starter, Kirkpatrick was named a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, given annually to the nation's top center. In 2010, he won the award outright.
He earned a litany accolades for his work last season, including second team AP All-American and Walter Camp Football Foundation First Team All-American. In addition, most scouts felt he performed very well during the Senior Bowl against a higher level of competition than what he'd seen at TCU.
Yet, amazingly, Kirkpatrick was not invited to the Scouting Combine. As such, he is flying a bit under the radar for most teams, although not the Chicago Bears. Sources tell Bear Report the two sides met recently for an individual workout.
On tape, Kirkpatrick is fundamentally sound. He sinks his hips well, can maul in the run game and consistently does well at the second level. His recognition of blitz schemes is off the charts. He explodes off the ball and has outstanding awareness. Once he has his hands on the defender, it's curtains. He's an effective zone blocker as well, which would come in handy in a Mike Martz offense.
The knocks on Kirkpatrick include a lack of balance caused by reaching for defenders, not churning his legs after contact and an inability to anchor against bigger nose tackles. He also lacks experience pulling and can be beat by a quick swim move. His arms are shorter than nearly every offensive lineman prospect, which has many teams concerned about his ability create and keep separation.
Normally, a player with only two years starting experience would be considered a project, but Kirkpatrick has shown an uncanny ability to quickly adapt to the game. He'll need to work on his upper body strength but his quick feet will make a valuable pivot man.
Most scouts have him as a sixth- or seventh-round pick. Chicago could shore up the offensive tackle position early in the draft and wait until the team's last pick to grab Kirkpatrick. The rookie could then learn for a few years under Kreutz. He has the intelligence and intangibles to be a starter at the NFL level and will come at a discounted rate. He's not an athletic freak but his size and quickness could make him a late-round draft steal.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.