July 31, 2008

Countdown to Camp: Position Battle #2

Last season is one that Iowa's offensive line would probably like to forget after giving up 46 sacks. But, a determined group is ready to show improvement this fall. The remaining question is who will be playing where and how much will they be on the field? As has been the case in recent years, there are plenty of questions that remain about Iowa's offensive line heading into camp and this year is no different.

Two Deep Offensive Line

LT: Andy Kuempel (6-foot-7 and 300 pound junior) or Bryan Bulaga (6-foot-6 and 301 pound sophomore), Kyle Haganman

LG: Julian Vandervelde (6-foot-3 and 300 pound sophomore) or Dan Doering (6-foot-6 and 300 pound junior), Adam Gettis (6-foot-4 and 270 pound redshirt freshman)

C: Rafael Eubanks (6-foot-3 and 285 pound junior) or Rob Bruggeman (6-foot-3 and 287 pound senior), Josh Koeppel (6-foot-1 and 265 pound sophomore)

RG: Seth Olsen (6-foot-5 and 305 pound senior), Travis Meade (6-foot-2 and 285 pound junior)

RT: Kyle Calloway (6-foot-7 and 317 pound junior), Wes Aeschliman (6-foot-8 and 318 pound senior)

A Look Back

It wasn't a great year for Iowa's offensive line in 2007 and the production numbers show it. Iowa gave up 46 quarterback sacks. The Hawkeyes only averaged 3.5 yards per carry in the running game and did not have a 1,000 yard rusher last season.

Injuries also played a role up front for the Hawkeyes with Dace Richardson, who was projected to start at tackle, missed nearly the entire season and it appears that his playing career is just about over. Also, Rob Bruggeman missed a good portion after an ACL injury and Coach Kirk Ferentz has said that he would have been in the mix last year at either guard or tackle. Bryan Bulaga also missed time early on and worked his way into the lineup near mid-season.

There was plenty of movement up front as well with Travis Meade starting the season only to be replaced by Bulaga. Julian Vandervelde started the year at guard, but eventually he rotated with Dan Doering. Rafael Eubanks started at center, but Bruggeman rotated in during the final weeks of the season.

A Look Ahead

On paper this looks like a pretty experienced group and the hope is that the experience will pay off in improved production. The big question is who will be playing where?

Seth Olsen will certainly be in the lineup and the hope is that he will be able to stay at guard. Olsen is a good tackle, but Iowa's line appears to better when he is at guard. It will be critical for Bulaga or Kuempel to grab hold of the left tackle spot and for Calloway to show more consistency at right tackle, so Olsen can stay put at right guard.

One of the more interesting battles up front is between Eubanks and Bruggeman, who appear to be neck and neck heading to camp. The feeling is that the coaching staff will pick one of the two and go with that player and the other will move to compete at guard. Who will win out? Good question because it is too early to tell.

Will the rotation of Vandervelde and Doering continue at guard? That is very possible, so stay tuned. Both players are solid and consistent and it will be a very good camp battle between the two. That could include three players if Bruggeman or Eubanks moves to guard, unless Olsen is forced to move to tackle.

At the right tackle position, Calloway showed flashes early in the season of great promise, but at other times, he appeared to lose confidence and made too many mistakes. That trend continued in the open spring practice where he was beaten twice in one series that resulted in being pulled from the position. He has a lot of talent, but he will have to become more consistent. Don't sleep on big Wes Aeschliman to jump in there. The fifth year senior has made a lot of progress over his career and could be a factor if Calloway struggles.

At the other tackle, look for a good tussle between Bulaga and Kumpel. Bulaga was out all spring and in his place, the Cedar Rapids native got his opportunity and according to the coaches, he was very impressive.

A Prediction

This prediction will be in pencil since quite a bit could change in the next month. Frankly, it always seems to change when you are talking offensive line in the past few years.

Olsen is going to start somewhere. Hopefully it is at guard because it makes Iowa a better team and have a stronger line, assuming the tackle play is solid. Let's put him at guard against Maine.

Calloway will get the first shot at right tackle in the opener. I think most fans assume that Bulaga will win the job fairly easily and that very well could be the case when it is all said and done. But, Kuempel showed the coaches that he is more than ready to find a spot in the lineup to start the year.

Vandervelde and Doering will have a spirited battle and that one will be too close to call at this time. It wouldn't be a surprise to see both on the field early in the year.

That brings us to the center spot where Bruggeman and Eubanks are in a tight race. Eubanks has an edge when it comes to experience on the field, but Bruggeman is a tough and rugged player on the line who has impressed quite a few important people connected to the program. At this point, my sense is that Bruggeman has a slight edge, but it is honestly too close to call.

A Wildcard

He probably won't factor in this year on the offensive line, but Iowa's next walk-on story could be Kyle Haganman from Osage. The word around the Iowa program is that he is on the fast track to being a factor in the two deeps in the next year or two. All he needs to do is add a few more pounds and strength to his frame and he could be a good one.

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