You’re not going to hear Rob Bruggeman’s name brought up during the various pre-draft shows we’re sure to be bombarded with in the next week. After the NFL selection process concludes on April 25-26, he might be mentioned if he becomes Mr. Irrelevant. Other than that, the Iowa center will fly under the radar and likely into a camp to prove his worth.
If it’s true that history repeats itself, Bruggeman is a living example. He seeks a spot in the NFL with much the same approach as he did as a Hawkeye walk-on.
“I’m sure my size is an issue,” Bruggeman said when asked what NFL teams might question about his game. “It usually is. That’s what people said when I was coming out of high school. I didn’t know how to get recruited out of high school, so I probably don’t know very well how to get recruited going into the NFL.
“I just want an opportunity, the same thing I wanted coming out of high school. I’ve been prepared to be told I can’t do it before. So, I’ll just give it my best shot. I know I’ll get into a camp. After that, it’s on my shoulders. I’m not blaming anybody but myself. I’m just excited to get in there and get a shot.”
The 6-foot-4, 293-pound Cedar Rapids Washington High graduate helped the Iowa offensive line become a dominant force in 2008 after a season in which the unit gave up 40-plus sacks. The group paved the way for running back Shonn Greene’s record breaking season after which he won the Doak Walker Award given to the top player at his position.
Bruggeman seemed poised to become Iowa’s starting center in ’07 before a knee surgery after spring drills sidelined him for much of the campaign. He then out-dueled incumbent, Rafael Eubanks, for the spot last fall.
A hamstring injury kept Bruggeman from running at the NFL Draft Combine. He returned to get timed at Iowa’s Pro day, has conducted individual workouts with teammate and fellow offensive lineman, Seth Olsen, and has a year of game tape for the scouts.
“I was disappointed in the fact that I couldn’t run down there,” Bruggeman said of the combine. “But once I got back and was able to run at the pro day, I felt like it went OK. I think it went pretty well actually. I’m just excited to be able to have a chance to play football.
“Hopefully somebody picks me up. And I try not to evaluate it too much. It’s really not the time to step back and evaluate what’s going on. It’s time to keep pushing forward and trying to get better.”
Bruggeman ran a 5.05-second, 40-yard dash at the pro day. He posted a 33-inch vertical jump. He benched 225 pounds 30 times at the combine and came back with 32 reps at the pro day, two impressive performances.
“We’re very lucky to have a guy like Coach (Chris) Doyle on campus for us,” Bruggeman said. “A lot of guys that train for the NFL and the combine, they end up going off campus. We have the luxury of having an amazing strength coach that trains us the whole time we’re here and continues to offer that to us as soon as we graduate.”
Several teams have come to Iowa City and worked out Bruggeman and Olsen. The Chiefs, Jets, Broncos, Bengals and a few other teams whom Bruggeman couldn’t remember took them through offensive linemen drills.
“We’ve also had teams call a lot and we do interviews over the phone,” Bruggeman said. “I think things have gone well, but a team will come in and work you out for a couple of hours and they kind of just go away. They don’t really sit you down and tell you how it went; what they thought.”
The NFL pre-draft secrecy proved tough, initially, for Bruggeman. He’s since learned that it’s the way the game is played.
“When it comes down to it, it’s not about how high you jump or how fast you’re going to run a 40 or how fast you can jump over bags during an individual workout,” he said. “It’s about how you’re going to play football when you’re given the opportunity; how fast you can pick up an offense or how fast you can apply yourself once you’re there. I’m just excited to get into a camp and actually play football again. It’s been too long.”
Preparation for training camp has occupied most of Bruggeman’s time and thoughts since testing ended in late March.
“You maybe lose sight and it becomes like a testing drill when the season ends and it’s so important how you’re going to run and how you’re going to jump,” he said. “But what’s really important is that when you get into camp how you’re going to play. We try to focus on getting back to the basics on how you play football and prepare to do our best once we get to camp.”
Former Hawkeyes that have experienced NFL training camps have tutored Bruggeman. The Iowa coaches also have offered their thoughts and advice.
“I talked with Mike Elgin, Marshal Yanda and Mike Humpal,” Bruggeman said. “Those guys are around. I consider them great friends. It’s really easy to talk to them about what goes on and how things are done.
“Every team is different, so you don’t have exactly what your schedule is going to be. But those guys are real helpful. They’ve been through it before. They know what it’s like. You can always ask them questions.”
Bruggeman wasn’t one of those kids that grew up dreaming about the NFL. He really only started thinking about his chances to play in the league towards the end of his senior season.
“I never really had huge expectations,” Bruggeman said. “You don’t really have a whole lot of time to sit back and think, “Oh man, this thing can come true.” I don’t really evaluate myself that much. I just do the best that I can in the situation I’m put in and try to maximize my potential.”
Bruggeman will watch the draft. He’s not sure how long he’ll be able to sit in front of the TV, however.
“The first day I might watch it because I want to see where Shonn is going to end up, hopefully he ends up in that first day. I would be real disappointed if he wasn’t,” Bruggeman said. “And then, I’m not sure. I’ll probably head home and hang out with my family. I’ll probably turn it on towards the end of it and see how it’s going. We’ll see. I don’t think I can sit there and watch it the whole time. I don’t really have a plan.”
And while the underdog Bruggeman would love to hear his named called during the draft, he holds other goals more important to him than being a draftee.
“I try not to worry about the prestige or what other people think,” he said. “I’m just out there trying to do my best, trying to play football. Sure, you get drafted and you want somebody to want you.
“But like I said, I want to be in a camp. I want to be able to play football. Being drafted is nice. It’s something you can tell your grandkids about. But it would be cooler to tell them you had a 10-year NFL career.”