Art Gallery

On and off the football field Robert Gallery appears to be a near-perfect combination of some of the NFL's best offensive linemen. He has the ability of Tony Boselli to set the tone for his team's running game. In college he played such a well-rounded game he was often likened to Jonathan Ogden. And he may have a better head of hair than the Rams' Kyle Turley. <BR><BR>

But Gallery's long mane of jet-black hair, along with his pencil-thin pseudo-beard and double-studded diamond earrings for that matter, may have to go by the wayside if the New York Giants decide to take last season's Outland Trophy winner in next month's draft.

New Giants head coach Tom Coughlin prefers his players to look more like GIs than Harley aficionados.

"We'll cross that bridge if we get there," the former Iowa offensive tackle said earlier this month.

That bridge is very likely to be crossed. The Giants, a team that would benefit greatly from improved blocking on the offensive line, will make the fourth selection in this year's NFL Draft, which begins on April 24. Gallery's laidback off-field demeanor and quick wit would be a perfect fit with the New York press and his leave-it-all-on-the-field attitude would endear him to Coughlin and teammates almost immediately.

Gallery is well aware that almost every so-called draft expert, most notably ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., has him trading in his black and gold for blue and red. His recent combine workout, where he was the only lineman to run a sub-five second 40-yard dash, opened any remaining eyes that didn't see Gallery as a legitimate top five prospect. But because of that workout Gallery also knows it is still too soon to be in contact with any Manhattan real estate agents.

"With trades and things like that you never know," he said. "After (the NFL combine) maybe I have people thinking they might want to move up to get me a little earlier."

That's a far cry from five years ago when hardly anyone was interested in Gallery, then a mere mortal tight end that weighed 240 pounds. He chose to attend Iowa where his brother Nick had been an all-Big Ten punter for the Hawkeyes. Looking back at that decision it now appears to have been destiny.

Former Baltimore Ravens offensive line coach Kirk Ferentz had just taken over the Iowa program. Joining him on staff was strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle. Together the two would mold Gallery into one of the best offensive linemen the school had ever produced.

Ferentz, on a tip from Giants OL coach Pat Flaherty, envisioned turning Gallery into a lineman at some point in his career, but after injuries plagued the team in the fall of 2000 he was forced to speed up the process. Gallery went from having caught three passes in four games as a backup tight end to starting on the offensive line during the team's Big Ten opener.

"I just remember they asked me to move on Sunday. What was I going to do? I had never taken a pass set as a down lineman before, but when Coach asks you to do something it is probably in your best interest," Gallery recalled. "So I said, ‘If it helps the team, I'll do it.' "

It didn't help the Hawkeyes immediately as the team went just 3-9 that year. But the following year Iowa went 7-5 and it was pretty clear Gallery, then a redshirt sophomore, was going to be pretty special.

"He's all you'd want in an offensive lineman," said Ferentz, who also coached Ogden while he was with the Ravens. "It is unfair to compare, but from the total package, I think Robert has a great future."

Under the guidance of Ferentz and former offensive line coach Joe Philbin (now with Green Bay) coupled with the grueling regimen of Doyle, Gallery became even better his junior year. He stood out on a senior-dominated line that featured three draft selections, including Eric Steinbach who went to Cincinnati as the first pick of the second round.

After the Hawkeyes were routed in the 2003 Orange Bowl by USC to end an otherwise stellar 11-2 junior campaign, Gallery faced a tough choice. He could have declared himself eligible for the draft and almost certainly would have been taken in the first two rounds or he could return to Iowa for his senior season where he would have to do most of the heavy lifting on a revamped and very green line.

Ultimately Gallery was forced to take stock of what was most important in his life. He wanted to earn his degree ("That's what I came here for," he said), help the Hawkeyes get back to the top of the Big Ten, and win the Outland Trophy. He could accomplish none of those things if he bolted for the draft; so he stayed.

Gallery will earn his degree in elementary education – he is emphatic that he will turn to teaching once his career his over and spent last spring student teaching – Iowa went 10-3 and won the Outback Bowl. After allowing only one sack on the first play of the season, Gallery virtually walked away with the Outland. Now it is time to move on.

Finding flaws in Gallery's game is tough, even for those who have witnessed his phenomenal transformation from gangly to gargantuan. Scouts rave about his agility and footwork and his 40 time at the combine in Indianapolis speaks for itself. Gallery's makeup – a former academic all-Big Ten pick that regularly joins teammates for visits to children's hospitals and gives freely of his time to members of the media and public alike – is sure to be a hit with any NFL team. And he certainly doesn't lack for confidence. After he was told at the combine some of his reps on the 225-pound bench press did not count because he did not follow the preferred technique he boldly stated he'd "just do 30" during Iowa's pro day and a week later he did just that.

When pressed, most will admit Gallery needs to refine his pass-blocking technique but his run-blocking is to the point where he could be dropped into any pro-style offense and immediately be effective. As to whose lineup he will eventually fit into, Gallery must wait until the draft. For now he's just waiting for his invitation.

"I haven't gotten the official invite yet, but I'm guessing that I'll get one," he said to laughter recently.

No word on whether or not he'll schedule a haircut beforehand.

* Todd Brommelkamp is Editor/GM of the Voice of the Hawkeyes

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