Everybody knows that when Iowa's got it together on the offensive line, the Hawkeyes are playing for Big Ten championships or New Year's Day bowls or, as they did in 2009, a BCS berth.
Yes, Iowa's O-line struggled through injuries and illness and might never have reached its potential last season. But three players from that unit -- Bryan Bulaga, Kyle Calloway and Dace Richardson -- could hear their names in the NFL draft.
The NFL's gain is going to be a loss for the '10 Hawkeyes. Bulaga left Iowa with a year of eligibility, which was the smart move considering some draft.coms have him going as high as No. 5. Richardson, who missed all but one game in 2007 and all of '08, also decided to give the NFL a try even though he would've had a great shot at a sixth year of eligibility.
Going into spring practice, which begins today, the Hawkeyes have three job openings on the offensive line.
Riley Reiff and Julian Vandervelde are the returning starters. Reiff, a sophomore, started 11 games including four at tackle. Vandervelde will go into his senior year with 24 career starts.
Reiff, a 6-foot-6, 290-pounder, was a little bit of everything this season. When Bulaga was held out with a thyroid
condition, the Parkston, S.D., native made his first career start at left tackle at Iowa State. He took on Arizona’s best pass rusher in Ricky Elmore and stood up. Then, he did just fine at then-No. 3 Penn State.
When Bulaga came back, Reiff started the final seven games of the season at left guard. For the Orange Bowl, he was switched to right tackle, with Calloway, a 36-game starter at tackle, sliding inside.
Reiff came out of Christmas break in the 290-range and trusts whatever weight range strength coach Chris Doyle has in mind for him.
Left tackle is a big deal. It’s a money position in the NFL, as Bulaga is about to find out. Is that what Reiff wants?
“You know me,” Reiff said, “I’ll play wherever they want me to. Just help out the team.”
It was a tough year for Vandervelde. He tore a pectoral muscle and had surgery in early summer. He missed all of fall camp and the UNI game while recovering. He came back and started four games at right guard. After Arkansas State, he was demoted into a rotation with Richardson. After Richardson broke an ankle against Michigan State, Vandervelde started the final five games.
Last spring, the 6-3, 300-pounder toyed with center, but he’ll likely be needed at guard in ‘10.
So, Iowa goes into 2010 needing a center, guard and right tackle.
Here are some of the possibilities:
Josh Koeppel and James Ferentz are the two names to watch here.
Koeppel is a former walk-on from Iowa City High. He's steadily climbed the ladder and this should be his time. He was No. 3 in 2008 and No. 2 last season. In 2008, he was used as a third tight end on goal line situations, so he has a degree of trust from the coaching staff. Koeppel is 6-2(ish) and listed at 267. He’ll have his hands full with bigger Big Ten tackles.
Ferentz's career probably stalled some last season with the off-the-field. It cost him some spring practice and a game suspension. With a clean slate, the 6-2, 265-pounder should be a hungry player this spring.
This might depend on who wins and loses in the battle for right tackle.
Adam Gettis, a 6-4, 280-pound junior, might have an inside track. He did start in the opener against Northern Iowa last season, but he then disappeared and didn't see any meaningful playing time the rest of the season. He also wore a giant cast on one of his hands much of the second half of the year.
Junior Cody Hundertmark, who switched from defensive end before the Orange Bowl, and sophomore Casey McMillan might also have shots at the depth chart.
This might be the most interesting spot to fill on the team. It certainly will be a new, almost completely new, guy.
Four names in contention likely will be senior walk-on Kyle Haganman, juniors Markus Zusevics and Woody Orne and redshirt freshman Nolan MacMillan.
Haganman (6-5, 285-pounder) has quietly built his body. He’s also been listed as a guard during his career, so he could be a possibility on the inside, too. During 2009, he was consistently in the mix with the No. 2 O-line.
MacMillan was a good get for the 2009 recruiting class. Iowa beat out Michigan State among others for MacMillan, a Canadian who tuned up his game at The Hun School in New Jersey. The 6-6, 288-pounder nearly burned his redshirt this season, but was held back. He had an undisclosed injury during bowl practices and didn’t participate.
This will be Zusevics' first legit shot at the depth chart. He’s seen light action in games the last two years, but this is the schedule he’s been on. He came to Iowa a 6-5, 240-pounder who was a four-year winner as an outside hitter on the Prospect (Ill.) prep volleyball team. He also played for a state football champ in 2005. His latest weight (Orange Bowl media guide) was 278.
Orne is interesting and, outside of some keen Hawkeye observers, nearly unknown.
A junior transfer from South Dakota State, Orne was SDSU’s lone representative on the 2008 Missouri Valley Conference all-newcomer team. He played in nine games with seven starts, playing right tackle the last five games of the season. He set strength and conditioning records at SDSU with a 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-1 broad jump. He’s listed 6-5, 295 on Iowa’s website.Originally from Fairfield, he seemed to grow into his own and take off at SDSU. He should be a junior with two to play two this fall.