Back … and bigger than ever
Healthy again, Gottschalk ready to go after starting tackle position Posted on 06/28/2012 by PonyFans.com
It’s no secret that the success of the SMU Mustangs’ offense in 2012 could rest in large part on a guy who is working his way back from a significant injury.
Right — offensive tackle Ben Gottschalk.
Sure, there’s a new quarterback in town who expects to compete for the starting job despite a surgically repaired shoulder, but every passer needs protection from opposing pass rushers. When the Mustangs’ all-senior 2011 offensive line graduated, it was widely assumed that Gottschalk would take over one of the starting tackle positions. But a back injury
forced Gottschalk to miss the Ponies’ spring workouts. He was diagnosed with two compression fractures in his L3 (third lumbar) vertebrae, and spent the spring watching as teammates began working under new offensive line coach Bob Palcic.
|A pair of fractures in his back forced tackle Ben Gottschalk to sit out spring workouts (photo by Travis Johnston).
But Gottschalk’s back is better. He is working out with his teammates, running in the summer heat and hoisting heavy weight in the weight room, and said he feels no lingering effects of the injury. In fact, he said he feels stronger than he ever has, having added a solid 20 pounds (to raise his weight to his current 305) since resuming workouts. He said his goal is to power clean five reps at 305 pounds, bench press five reps at 405 and squat five reps at 505 pounds by the start of the 2012 season.
“I feel great,” Gottschalk said. “I’m working out hard. I don’t know that I have my stamina all the way back, but I feel stronger than I’ve ever been. I feel much more powerful, like a tank or something. I feel like it’s going to be impossible to move me.
“My biggest problem before, moving from high school to college, was matching the physicality of the other guys. I think I want to put on another five or 10 pounds, and I think I can do that without losing my athleticism. Honestly, I’m loving being this heavy. I can’t wait for the start of camp. I think I’m going to tear it up this year.”
Gottschalk said that while he has not had the benefit practicing under Palcic, he did spend the spring observing practice and attending meetings with the rest of the line, and therefore said he doesn’t feel he’ll be too far behind the rest of the linemen when the Ponies begin preseason workouts in August.
“There’s new terminology,” he said, “but it’s all designed to improve communication within the offensive line.”
While many might have assumed Gottschalk would start, at least before he was shelved by his back injury, the junior-to-be from Sherman Oaks, Calif., said Palcic has offered no such assurances.
“Coach Palcic said he’ll put the five best guys out there, regardless of the positions they have played in the past,” Gottschalk said. “So if four of our best offensive linemen are tackles, two will be moved to guard or something.
“I’m coming in expecting to compete, expecting to start, but so are the guys who practiced all spring. The fact that I’m older than some guys doesn’t mean I’m going to start. I have to show Coach Palcic I have learned what he’s teaching and I can take that to the field.”
Gottschalk and the rest of the 2012 offensive line now have to fill the considerable void left by the departure of all five 2011 starters, including tackle Kelvin Beachum, Jr., and guard Josh LeRibeus, who got drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins, respectively. The loss of that veteran experience has caused many to suggest that the offensive line might be the offense’s weak link this season. Such thinking, Gottschalk said, only adds fuel to the blockers’ fire.
“We heard all the time about last year’s line, being five seniors, the most experienced line in the nation,” Gottschalk said. “They were really good players and experienced players, and they deserved the attention they got. But they’re gone, and we still have a job to do.
“I feel like the pressure is off of us, in a way, because the expectations are so low. Our own expectations aren’t low, but if people want to think we have nothing left, that’s fine. It kind of gives us a chip on our shoulders. We like proving people wrong.”