It's about that time again. For the next three months, BHGP will be previewing this year's Iowa Hawkeyes, position-by-position. Naturally, as the earth revolves around the sun, things will change. Therefore, we're starting with the position where we are most certain, and ending with the position of which we are least certain. To date:
Tonight: Offensive tackle
Prince Kwateng, just a human lawn dart
The surprisingly excellent Wall Street Journal sports page published an interesting piece this spring on the correlation between the number of returning starts on a college football team's offensive line and that team's success (they didn't provide any real statistics to back up the proposition, but the anecdotal evidence is relatively convincing). Iowa, with a total of 98 returning starts, is fourth-highest among the BCS schools. Of those 98 returning starts, 43 have been made by the starting tackles.
So, yeah, these guys might be important.
LT: Bryan Bulaga (#79, 6'6", 312, Junior) - Ladies and gentlemen, for your consideration, the Big Ten's best offensive lineman.
There is not much to write about Bulaga that hasn't already been written. Quite simply, he has handled everything thrown at him in his first two seasons without so much as a hiccup:
- Learn enough about blocking (he was a high school tight end) in eight weeks that you can play in the Big Ten as a true freshman? Done.
- Start five late-season games, and play every down in three of them? No problem.
- Transition from left guard to tackle? Piece of cake.
- Start every game as a sophomore? Keep it coming.
- Assume responsibility for protecting the blind side when the left-handed starting quarterback gets benched for the right-handed quarterback? What, is this supposed to be difficult?
- Look like the illicit love child of Brian Urlacher and Batista? OK, that's a little creepy.
So what gets thrown at Bulaga this season (other than filthy NFL lucre)? As the most experienced returnees, he and Calloway will likely be charged with on-field leadership responsibilities once held by Olsen and Bruggeman. Bulaga and the rest of the line also won't have the best running back in the history of the program behind them, so the run blocking will take on extra importance. Otherwise, it looks to be a replay of last year for a player who was second team all-conference (first team if you ask Phil Steele) (and you should). In other words, expect more of the same from Bulaga, which is more than enough to make him the best lineman in the conference.
That, or he turns into Billy Bob from Varsity Blues. We're not sure which is more likely.
RT: Kyle Calloway (#60, 6'7", 315, Senior) - I'm a man. I will admit when I was wrong, and I was wrong here: Despite his early performances, Kyle Calloway has developed into an outstanding offensive lineman.
With the graduations of Kroul and Unusual Punishment, Calloway is the only remaining player with a start in every game since 2007. That's 25 consecutive starts at tackle, homes, and the experience has helped. But if Bulaga is a masher at left tackle, Calloway always strikes us as finesse player on the right. He's extremeley competent in pass protection, has some of the best footwork on this highly-experinced line, uses his exceptionally long arms to his advantage, and is capable of driving a defender off the line of scrimmage when necessary; it's just that he rarely decimates an end or linebacker with the gusto of his fellow bookend. It's high on the list of reasons why Bulaga is being discussed as a first-round selection while the almost-identically-sized Calloway will likely be a second-day pick next April.
Watch Out for the Ambulance
There's only one way these guys see significant time at tackle this year:
Let's hope THAT doesn't happen.
Reilly Reiff (#77, 6'6", 280, Fresh(RS)) -The Plankton from Yankton had an eventful first year on campus. Recruited ostensibly as a defensive end (and with enough hype that he had an outside chance at making the two-deep as a true freshman), he put on 30 pounds and converted to offensive line. That's a big event in the life of a player.
Oh yeah, and there was that whole "drunken naked running through downtown" thing, too. Almost forgot about that.
Despite disappointing all 37 people in Yankton with his pre-season tomfoolery, Reiff was apparently the real deal on the field. It's not often you make the spring Iowa offensive line two-deep as a redshirt freshman; it's even less likely that legitimate reporters think you can get a Bulaga-esque cup of coffee at guard at the expense of a glut of experienced upperclassmen. Barring any significant developments (given what happened last summer, I think we might hear something), he'll start August backing up Bulaga.
Markus Zusevics (#56, 6'5", 280, Sophomore) - Might be loyal to Vladimir Putin, but will back up Kyle Calloway nonetheless. Unlike Reiff, Zusevics probably won't see time at other positions unless the Sam Brownlee virus takes out the entire line; there are just too many players at right guard with dibs on that spot. We'll save the more thorough write-up for next year, when he'll likely start for the graduating Calloway.