Ferentz: Bulaga Will Be a Hit

Packer Report talked to esteemed Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz about first-round draft pick Bryan Bulaga. Our exclusive interviews with Ferentz and Bulaga will be part of the extensive Cover Story for the upcoming Packer Report Magazine.

The new Packer Report Magazine will feature an extensive Cover Story on first-round pick Bryan Bulaga. As part of that, we talked to Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, who is one of the best head coaches in the college game and is renowned for, with line coach Reese Morgan, churning out quality NFL blockers.

Bill: I was talking to Bryan on Monday and he said he didn't even start playing on the offensive line until his senior year in high school. What did you see in him that made you think he could be a lineman in the Big Ten?

Ferentz: We offered him after his junior year. He was a tight end and defensive end at that point. I think he weighed maybe 240, 245 but he had a big frame. We basically just took a shot with him. We told him that we'd love to have him on our team in any capacity but we thought he had tremendous upside as an offensive lineman, if he had an interest. Fortunately, he was interested, which is atypical of prospects that age. He and his family spent a couple days over here on a couple different visits and really had a liking. We were fortunate we got him. He committed early to us and it was all good things since that time.

Bill: That's a pretty remarkable story and good foresight on your part.

Ferentz: He was a very aggressive player in high school. We thought he would project size-wise growing out of the offensive/defensive positions. So, we just thought he'd be a very capable defensive player. I thought that with his ability that he had a chance to become a very good offensive lineman. Fortunately, he and his family bought into that vision.

Bill: He played guard that first year as a true freshman. What did you see that made you think he'd excel at the line's premier position?

Ferentz: At that time, we felt like we were OK at tackle and it's a little tougher breaking in on the outside. So, we started him at guard and he handled that very, very well. He played really well the last part of the season. At the end of that year, we assessed our entire group and felt like if he wasn't the best guy at that point that he had a chance to emerge. We thought we'd move him out to left tackle and that would solve that position for the next couple of years and let him grow into that. He handled it remarkably well.

Bill: Obviously, he has all the tools. Among those tools, what stands out?

Ferentz: It all starts with attitude. That's usually the real key to any player that's really successful. He was a guy who was driven in high school. Very mature and very focused. When he walked into our organization here four years ago, he was focused right from Day 1. His goal was to play as a first-year player, and that's unusual for an offensive lineman in any program. The way he worked, the attitude that he worked with, that just told you that this guy is a little bit ahead of the curve. He just continued to work with that kind of attitude all the way through his time here.

Bulaga, with friends and family
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Bill: You've churned out one or two really good offensive linemen over the years. Any doubt that Bryan has what it takes?

Ferentz: No. What I told NFL people during the process, his biggest negative is one of the biggest pluses. First of all, he's a blue-chip stock in my mind. His character, his attitude — all those things are just exemplary. You know what you're getting, that's first and foremost. Any coach at any level, if they appreciate one thing, it's being able to predict what you're going to get from a player in terms of effort and level of performance. That's comforting. If you've met Bryan, when you see him in his workout clothes, he's not a guy — and I've coached the line a little bit in the NFL — he's not a guy that you're ever going to have to worry about with his body weight. He's 316 right now and he looks like he's 280. He really takes meticulous care of himself and he's meticulous with his preparation. Those are all things that are going to lead to long-term success. I go back to the point of being a third-year guy. Just going back to my time, if memory serves me correctly, I think Walter Jones played two years of junior college and one year at Florida State and then went to Seattle. But it's pretty unusual for an offensive lineman to be drafted after three years of college experience (without a redshirt). That's unusual for a first-rounder. That gives you insight into the way he works hard and he's been very, very productive. I think the good news is his best football is still ahead of him. He should be a fourth-year senior but he's going to be lining up against NFL players and I would predict he'll compete very well. I think the thing everyone will see is he'll just keep getting better and better. He's young and he's got a great attitude and works extremely hard.

Bill: That bowl game against Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan, who wound up going to Tennessee at No. 16, that was about as good as it gets. So, considering the circumstances, I'm not sure why people keep talking about that Michigan game (when Brandon Graham had two sacks).

Ferentz: If you look back over last year, and I'm not one that's big on excuses, but you have to deal in facts, also. First of all, he had a tough camp. He had a couple leg problems during camp and both of our offensive tackles missed an awful lot of time in August. I didn't think either one of them were playing great in our opener. Offensively, we were not good in that first game and Bryan, that game was not representative of his kind of play. Then, as you know, he had the thyroid condition where not only was he not playing but he literally was doing nothing for a couple of weeks. They wouldn't let him do a thing. They thought he had a heart issue and all that stuff. He literally did nothing. When he came back on the field, he wasn't playing like the Bryan Bulaga that we knew. If you want to look at him last year, you look at him down the stretch. He really competed well against Ohio State against really good competition. And then the bowl game, yeah, he played an excellent football game. He had a great, prolonged period of practice in our bowl preparation. It just looked like him. He was humming. And then you look before, too. We had a big win over Penn State in November of '08. and he played excellent in that game against pretty good competition. They had Maybin (Aaron, Buffalo's first-round pick in 2009) and another player who was pretty good. And he played very well in our bowl game a year ago. If he's got the opportunity to get into a groove and really find his comfort level, to me, those games are representative of the type of play he's capable of.

Bill: Last thing, and you've touched on this, but what kind of person are the Packers getting?

Ferentz: Credit to the Packers. They've had some of our best guys up there. Matt Bowen was up there for awhile, Aaron Kampman was an all-time great Hawkeye. I think everybody up there recognized how Aaron was. Bryan and Aaron are different but they're the same in that they're going to be great professionals, and by that I mean, they're not guys that are going to feel entitled to anything. They're going to come in and work hard. They realize that they're getting paid to do a job and they're going to take great pride in it. They're going to work extremely hard. I don't think anybody would question that Aaron Kampman didn't leave everything he did. He invested totally into his craft and I think Bryan will do that same thing. I don't pretend to be an expert on the Packers but I think they really do a nice job — and some teams do this better than others — but they do a nice job of identifying players that have those type of intangibles. Bryan, in my mind, certainly fits into that kind of discussion. Those are the kind of guys that really make differences on teams, and I think Bryan has that kind of potential.

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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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