Saturday, 7 November 2009

Bulaga impressive even in defeat

I had a chance to watch Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga for the second consecutive week and I have to say he was impressive. Despite the Hawkeye's losing their unbeaten record to Northwestern, Bulaga was pretty much unbeatable all afternoon, creating perfect protection to the quarterback's blind side. It's a shame the other side of the offensive line weren't half as good - it might have kept quarterback Ricky Stanzi in the game.

On the game's first drive, Bulaga showed better footwork than I saw last week and good upper body strength to keep Corey Wootton at bay (a solid pro-prospect himself), affording Stanzi the chance to step into the pocket and launch a strike downfield for a touchdown. Northwestern kept Wootton away from Bulaga after that, putting him on the opposite flank or at outside linebacker. That essentially won the game, it was his hit on Stanzi that forced him off at the start of the second quarter - running untouched into the end zone to hammer the quarterback as a left side linebacker.

This prevented the opportunity to watch Bulaga competing against top competition, but he dominated this game nonetheless. His main attribute is his strength. He over powers a lot of college defensive lineman and this was no different today. Play after play he opened up huge holes in the running game, positioning his blocks perfectly whether pulling inside to create an open edge or driving his man away from the line of scrimmage for an inside run. He was equally good in pass protection, never beaten on the edge and as soon as he got his hands on a pass rusher it was game over.

I'm still not entirely convinced he'll declare as a junior prospect. It's only the relatively mediocre depth at offensive tackle that makes me believe he'll chase the money, especially since it's unlikely now Iowa will achieve a Rose Bowl berth (an assumption I know, but they lost more than the game today). Now, nothing today convinced me that he's not a better prospect at right tackle than he is at left. He won't have the same advantage with his strength in the NFL than he does now at college level. His great run blocking lends itself to the right side and he could be a pro-bowler at that position or guard.

However, in the same way teams fell in love with Jake Long the same could happen with Bulaga. He won't go first overall like Long and he's a step below the former Michigan blocker, but he could go higher than most are predicting now. Some teams will feel they can use him on the left and that will help his stock. Other teams (like Seattle) who favor more agile lineman might not be as keen to take him early. He could be awesome at right tackle or as an interior lineman, so if he did drop later into round one he could be an option with Seattle's second pick (should he declare) but I imagine he'll be long gone by then.

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