1,500 Pounds of Protection


Aug. 8, 2006

Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz said offensive lineman Mike Elgin sometimes comes to practice “looking like hell.”

Elgin, a mechanical engineering major, said it’s because he’s been up late the night before working on a project or studying for a test.

“I just want to get through it, watch some film, get home and sleep,” the senior guard from Bankston said. “They can tell, it’s usually one of those days when I’m not upbeat a lot.”

Those engineering tests might be the worst thing the offensive line has going for it. Though Elgin might look rough on a certain day, the line is predicted to be a smooth, strong unit for the 2006 Hawkeyes. Elgin, Mike Jones and Marshal Yanda are all seniors and will lead the squad. Each one of them started all 12 Iowa games last year.

They return this year likely in the same positions as they were at the end of last year – Yanda will play right tackle, Elgin next to him at right guard, and Jones will handle the left guard position.

Rafael Eubanks may take over for the graduated Brian Ferentz and start at center, while Dace Richardson – who saw a lot of action last year as a true freshman – will protect Drew Tate’s backside at left tackle.

That makes close to 1,500 pounds of protection for Tate and Albert Young, who racked up 1,376 yards behind the offensive line last year.

“It works both ways,” Elgin said of the line’s relationship with the backs. “We always joke around. Drew’s going to be my roommate this year.”

That room will also include Sam Brownlee and could be right up there with the weight room and film room as key for Iowa’s offensive attack this year. But Elgin isn’t taking any success for granted.

“It’s only going to happen through hard work and preparation,” he said. “That stuff is not going to be given to us. Nobody in our conference or in a preseason game is going to give us a yard.”

Sophomore Seth Olsen will battle for playing time, especially at center. The sophomore from Omaha was named to the Big Ten all-freshman team by the Sporting News last year and started the game against Iowa State at right tackle.

Olsen, Eubanks and Richardson bring youth to a line that also has experience at the top with Elgin, Jones and Yanda. The youngsters will be counted on to anchor the line for the next three years.

“I think that big recruiting class, it’s all their second year now; that group will provide depth,” Jones said of the young trio. “I think we do have good depth. I know those guys will be ready to step up and do more if they have to.”

Jones added that it’s possible for a young player to be too eager, even on the offensive line.

“It can be tough, sometimes when you’re out there you can put a lot of pressure on yourself,” he said. “Sometimes thinking too much is what can get you in trouble. You just have to go out there and play, just relax. If a mistake happens, let it be an aggressive mistake.”

Still, the line’s biggest strength may lie in its versatility. Both Jones and Yanda played two different positions last year, and Elgin started all 12 games as center in 2004.

“Yeah I mean, I can play quarterback too but they don’t want me to do that,” Elgin joked. “I think it makes finding the best five on the field a little easier because you’re able to have different combinations, and you can test it out easily.”

Elgin will combine his expertise from center in 2004 with what Eubanks has learned for a lot of brainpower on a meaty offensive line.

“It’s kind of a reassuring thing for me that there’s two centers out there,” Elgin said. “When defenses start playing around, it’s two great minds working together.”

If the two feed off each other and make each other better, it will be fine with offensive line coach Reese Morgan.

“Elgin and Eubanks are rooming together (during camp), they’re both in their playbooks, Raf’s asking questions, and they’re working side by side,” Morgan said.

“Boy he’s gonna be OK, Rafael’s going to be a good player for us.” There will be heat from behind, too. Morgan said that competition for playing time should keep the players hungry.

“The competition is going to be keener at all positions, in our unit certainly,” Morgan said. “We’ve got depth, but we’ve got a lot of inexperience there.”

“We’re not going to push them, we’re going to gently shove them. We don’t really have anybody in that junior class so we’ve got to get some of these young kids ready to go.”

Those young kids include sophomore Rob Bruggeman and redshirt freshmen Dan Doering, Andy Kuempel, Kyle Calloway and Travis Meade.

“Rob’s off to a good solid start,” Morgan said of Bruggeman, who will backup the others at center. “He’s a guy that had a great offseason, we’re expecting good things for him.”

Though part of focus will be on getting the young players up to speed, the strength of the line undoubtedly resides with the seniors. The anchors of the line will largely determine the Hawkeye offense’s success.

“Those guys are gonna be the leaders for us on the field and the leaders in terms of generating some unity within our group,” Morgan said. “They’re doing a great job with our younger guys, they’re grabbing guys, talking to them. These guys really want to help other people, they take so much pride in it.”

Which, of course, circles back to Elgin, who took a class and did research over the summer while he kept up with his workouts.

“What Mike brings to the football team more than anything else is his competitiveness,” Morgan said. “And he’s intelligent, God he’s so smart — he’s an engineering student.”

“He’s an undersized guy, he’s not your typical Big Ten lineman, but he’s invaluable for us.”

With three returning starters and possibly fewer tests and projects for Elgin, Iowa fans might be salivating at what the offense can do behind the sturdy line.

“I can certainly say we’ve got great running backs, quarterbacks, tight ends and I think our wide receivers are pretty good too,” Morgan said. “All we’ve got to worry about is getting a little better up front fundamentally and making sure we protect Drew.”

By Gregg Found UI Sports Marketing