Fall practice is a time for obsession. Football -- real, actual, meaningful football in games that count -- is just around the corner, less than a month away now. But it's not here yet, so we latch on to every tidbit that we can in the meantime. We scrutinize every detail that leaks out of practice, via official media observations (few and far between, given the locked-down nature of Iowa's practices) or insider "leaks." We pore over practice photos to see what details we can glean from them. We speculate. We predict. We wonder. We make mountains out of mole hills and elaborate theories out of tossed-off comments and context-free photos.
So I'd like to contribute to fall practice mania with this observation: Tristan Wirfs is a very large human being. Exhibit A:
This guy is a true freshman. You can only imagine what Tristan Wirfs will look like in the future. pic.twitter.com/AjIp53UCmF
— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) August 7, 2017
And Exhibit B:
Someone said Tristan Wirfs looks the part. I'm not gonna argue. pic.twitter.com/W5eJm12yux
— Marc Morehouse (@marcmorehouse) August 7, 2017
Holy Hoss Mode, Batman.
Look, pictures can deceive. (This article about the tricks Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg uses to make himself look taller in photos is interesting.) And in the cold, hard light of raw numbers Wirfs is not abnormally large among Iowa offensive linemen. The official roster lists him at 6'5", 315 lbs; Iowa's starting offensive tackles, Boone Myers and Ike Boettger, are listed at 6'5", 310 lbs and 6'6", 307 lbs, respectively. Recent Iowa offensive tackles have been similarly sized -- Brandon Scherff was listed at 6'5", 315 lbs and Andrew Donnal was listed at 6'7", 305 lbs.
Of course, Wirfs is also a true freshman, which is probably a big part of our fascination. It's not hard to look at Wirfs and think that, at least from a body standpoint, he already looks pretty Big Ten-ready. That hasn't exactly been the norm among many of Iowa's recent offensive tackles, even the very best ones. Ike Boettger arrived in Iowa City as a 6'5", 220 lb tight end prospect back in 2013. Riley Reiff was a 6'6", 250 lb kid out of South Dakota when he got to Iowa in 2008. Even Bryan Bulaga, who started as a true freshman and became an All-Big Ten performer and first round NFL Draft pick in just three years, was only listed at 6'5", 270 lbs when he was an incoming recruit. (Scherff did sort of buck this trend: he was listed at 6'6", 295 lbs as a 2010 recruit.) We're not quite used to true freshman arriving as big and as fully-formed as Wirfs; he doesn't look like he needs to spend a few years being built up by Chris Doyle before he can handle Big Ten football.
Bulaga provides an interesting example. He was a decorated offensive line recruit who saw action early in 2007 and grabbed a starting spot partway through the season. He never relinquished that starting job and developed into a standout offensive tackle before leaving after his junior year in 2009. As we all know, true freshman rarely start on the offensive line at Iowa; the only recent examples that spring to mind are Bulaga and James Daniels. Both were 4* recruits who were expected to be good but who developed even faster than many expected.
Like Bulaga and Daniels, Wirfs is a 4* recruit with big expectations -- could he see the field early? While he seems to have the size to play now and (maybe) the ability, the one thing he doesn't seem to have yet is an opportunity. Injuries and graduations afforded Daniels and Bulaga a chance to get on the field early, but Wirfs is walking into an offensive line loaded with experience and returning starters. It's hard to expect him to beat out guys who have been in the program for four or five years at this point and played in dozens of actual games. Wirfs' immediate future likely involves time on the bench and a redshirt; the only way that's likely to change is if misfortune strikes and Iowa suffers a spate of injuries at guard or tackle. That said, if Wirfs does work his way into the two-deeps by the end of fall practice, it will be interesting to see if he plays limited minutes as a back-up or if Iowa chooses to redshirt him anyway and preserve a year of eligibility. I would guess that if he really is in the two-deeps by the end of August that a redshirt is off the table -- at that point he's good enough to be "next man in" for Iowa if something happens and the coaches will want to use him.
In the meantime, we'll continue to be fascinated by Tristan Wirfs, Large Human Being. It should be noted that he joins a few other young Iowa offensive linemen who are also Large Human Beings, like Alaric Jackson:
(both photos courtesy photo galleries at Hawkeye Sports)
Jackson is a redshirt freshman and has already worked his way up to second team left tackle on the depth chart, while Kallenberger is a true freshman, like Wirfs. (Kallenberger is only listed at 260, so he probably will need at least a year with Doyle before he's ready for the rigors of the Big Ten.) The future of Iowa's offensive line is looking very bright (and very large).