HOUGHTON - For the last two years, Michigan Tech junior Frank Vruwink has comfortably held down the left tackle spot on the Huskies offensive line.
Named to the All-GLIAC second team last season as the blind-side protector, Vruwink will be a lock to start again in the 2014.
But perhaps not at left tackle.
With help from running back Kevin Miller, left, Michigan Tech offensive lineman Austin Roy blocks a Ferris State player during a 2013 game. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
With Buddy Poljan, Aaron Brandt and Chris Mullen graduated, three offensive line spots are up for grabs next fall. Austin Roy, the utility man on the line last year, returns as a sixth-year senior - absent this spring due to NCAA eligibility rules - and will almost certainly man one of those spots, while returning left guard Bruce Tebelman will take another.
The other two, however, are completely up in the air. Rather than lock himself into a positional battle - i.e., "we need a right guard and a right tackle," - Tech coach Tom Kearly wants to find his five best offensive linemen this spring and move them around accordingly. This means if he has another strong left tackle, he is comfortable sliding Vruwink anywhere along the line to make the combination work.
"We have played him at both tackles this spring and we have played him even at guard," Kearly said. "We know he is going to be in our top five, so it still depends how we sort out the younger people.
"It is a bit of a luxury. We have the ability to get the best five on the field because we think Frank can play just about anywhere we want him to play."
This is not because someone else on the roster is better suited to play left tackle than Vruwink - there almost certainly is not.
But Kearly trusts the 6-foot-3, 275 pound Vruwink to handle whatever is thrown at him and he wants the new starters to be comfortable in their preferred position.
"Sometimes a body type means you have to play a certain position. Tackles usually have longer arms, guards are a bit thicker, that type of thing. But so much of that stuff is mental, that early in a young person's career, you want to get them where they don't have a lot to think about. But once they get acclimated, you can move them around a bit more," Kearly said.
From the new faces, junior Matt Mateer has stood out the most midway through spring.
The 6-foot-2, 250 pound junior has slid comfortably into guard among the No. 1 line, and if things continue to progress Kearly is comfortable naming him a starter heading into fall.
"Matt Mateer has had a real good spring at one of our guards," Kearly said. "He has kind of stepped into the forefront a little bit. At this point he is looking good for one of the guard spots."
The fifth spot is still up for grabs.
Junior Kyle Schober has received a lot of reps at guard in the No. 1 huddle and sophomore Joe Vieau has slotted in as the No. 1 center.
At tackle, senior Chris Combs and junior Phil Morrow are leading the way on the top two lines, but are being pushed by freshmen Luke Schulz and Josh Knoepke.
Kearly has shown a willingness to play freshmen offensive linemen before, with Vruwink the latest to start after a redshirt year.
The Tech coach prefers to take eight offensive linemen along on road games, with a backup tackle and two backup interior linemen.
"Chris Combs and Phil Morrow have been in our top two lines at tackle this spring, but we have some young guys challenging them. Luke Schulz and Josh Knoepke are getting an awful lot of reps too," Kearly said.