For the better part of a decade, the Green Bay Packers could run Chad Clifton onto the field at left tackle and Mark Tauscher onto the field at right tackle and rest assured that the quarterback would be protected.
Finally, during the first round of last year's NFL Draft, Bryan Bulaga fell into the Packers' laps. Whether Bulaga is the Packers' right tackle of today and the future, or their right tackle of today and left tackle of the future, remains to be seen, but at least a cornerstone of the offensive line is in place for the next decade.
This year's NFL Draft includes six offensive tackles with first-round potential, including Villanova's Benjamin Ijalana. The Packers held a formal interview with him at the Scouting Combine, a source told Packer Report, and are on the RSVP list for Villanova's pro day on April 6.
Ijalana was a two-time All-American at the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision level. He started all 53 games of his career at left tackle, including the final four games of his senior season when he played through a bilateral sports hernia that required surgery, which prevented him from competing in the Senior Bowl or testing at the Scouting Combine.
At 6-foot-3 1/2, Ijalana doesn't have the prototypical height to play left tackle. Clifton and Bulaga are both 6-foot-5. The other five first-round possibilities range from 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-8. What Ijalana does have, however, are long arms that mitigate his relative lack of height. His arms are 36 inches long — longer than four of the five other first-round prospects, and longer than Bulaga's and Clifton's, as well.
"When I wake up tomorrow, I'm still going to be this height," Ijalana said at the Scouting Combine. "There's nothing I can do about it. I'm not 6-6. I'm not 6-8. But if you put some cleats and a helmet on me, I can be (a tackle)."
Ijalana primarily played soccer until he was 14 until playing football as a freshman in high school. That athleticism is evident in his play, whether it's handling speed rushers in the passing game or reaching linebackers in the running game. He also was a district champion as a high school wrestler.
"Wrestling is probably the hardest physical activity I've ever been involved in," he said. "It's intense. It's insane. You're moving around. A match is 6 minutes. It's about movement and staying up. It's a matter of what you do after you get tired. Because you're going to get tired. You're going to get exhausted. And you still have to move and fight through it. When you think of a game, 60-70 plays, fourth-quarter drive, overtime. Guys putting their hands on you. It definitely helped me."
Following his junior season, Ijalana took part in a one-day football camp at Villanova. He was offered a scholarship afterward and he took it. Now, the obvious question mark is whether Ijalana can make the jump from the FCS to the NFL. The Senior Bowl would have helped. But, there's film, including matchups against Maryland in 2007, West Virginia in 2008 and Temple in 2009 and 2010 — with Ijalana having one of his finest performances of his senior season in his matchup against defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson, a first-round talent. Plus, there were 11 playoff games.
"I'm blessed," Ijalana said. "Mark Ferrante, my offensive line coach, when I was a freshman, we were getting ready to play Maryland. He brought me in and said you're starting at tackle. He said then I believe you can play in the NFL. You show glimpses of really good things. He said you're small-school (guy). But what he said then has stuck with me to this day: if you can play, they'll find you. I truly believe that. It's why I'm here now. There might be knocks on my level of competition. But it's what you do out on the football field that matters."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.