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September 27, 2007
Reckman filling in well at left guard
Offensive guard is for the real brutes.
While your more athletic offensive linemen get put at either center or tackle, guard is for the tanks, the dump truck-sized powerhouses better equipped to maul than move.
But there are exceptions, like Zach Reckman.
Now starting at the position that at Purdue has featured the likes of 320-something-pounders Chukky Okobi and Gene Mruczkowski and current 330-something Jordan Grimes, Reckman isn't your standard guard physically.
Reckman, a sophomore, could step on the scale with an anvil under each arm and still not weigh as much as Grimes, the Boilermakers' other starting guard.
But Reckman is a starkly different style of lineman than Grimes and others who fit the widely accepted guard prototype.
"I'm built differently than most guards, which can be a good thing and a bad thing," Reckman said. "I'm learning to overcome the ways it hurts me. I'm pretty light and skinny for a guard, but it makes me a little bit faster."
No, Reckman doesn't fit the boxy mold of many other interior offensive linemen. But strength isn't Reckman's defining characteristic. Athleticism is.
Co-offensive coordinator/interior offensive line coach Bill Legg calls Reckman a "bendy, twisty guy," sounding more as if he were describing Gumby than one of his players.
Added Coach Joe Tiller, "He would challenge anybody on our line in terms of athleticism."
When he recruited Reckman out of Cincinnati's Indian Hill High School in 2004, Legg saw a 6-foot-6 player with strong footwork and mobility, along with a frame to add considerable size and strength.
That's pretty much the blueprint for Purdue's needs at offensive tackle, with length and athleticism generally taking priority over brawn.
After redshirting in 2005, then not playing in '06, Reckman's opportunities for playing time in the short term appeared bleak, largely due to the fact that major shoulder and knee surgeries hampered his ability to bring his body up to Big Ten O-line standards during the most important window of time in any young lineman's physical development, that being his first two seasons.
Reckman admits that he was blind-sided in August when his big opportunity came.
On the first day of preseason practice, Legg told the 290-pounder to start practicing with the guards.
Presented to him was an immediate opportunity to not only play, but start, at the new position. Reckman and classmate Eric Hedstrom split practice time through much of camp, and an every-other-series sort of platoon was mentioned as a possibility. But Reckman impressed and Hedstrom got hurt; he still hasn't returned from a bruised knee sustained toward the end of camp.
"I definitely wasn't expecting it and wasn't ready for it," Reckman said. " Things just fell into place for me to contribute, and I'm trying to take advantage of it."
And so, Reckman now has a starting spot to himself, though he is relieved here and there by converted center Cory Benton during games, perhaps in hopes of helping Reckman get through the season healthy.
"Here's a guy who's had knee surgery, who's had shoulder surgery," Tiller said. "With a guy like that, you worry about a 12-game schedule."
Well, the first four games of that schedule are in the books, and the returns have been positive thus far.
Reckman's mobility has proven an asset at times. During the Central Michigan game, he made key downfield blocks, pulling from his left-side position.
On the second of Kory Sheets' two touchdown runs, Reckman pulled to his right and led the running back toward the goal line. Mid-stride, he twisted his body to reach back and get a hand on one tackler, just enough contact to allow Sheets to clear him; then, Reckman continued up-field and blew out a second tackler.
"I think being able to get moving has been helping me, especially when I make a mistake," Reckman said. "With my speed, I sometimes can make up for a mistake, which I wouldn't have been able to do if I wasn't fast enough."
On Sheets' first TD against the Chippewas, a 17-yarder on which the ball-carrier went untouched, it was Reckman's seal-off block to his right that opened half the gaping hole that set up the easy run.
Against Minnesota this past weekend, Reckman was a key blocker on Sheets' 16-yard touchdown catch off a screen, keeping away one of the few tacklers that would have had a reasonable shot at Sheets.
In his "trench" responsibilities, Reckman's wrestling background has taught him well, he believes. He attributes at least some of his balance and footwork to it. At Indian Hill, he was one of the top heavyweights in Ohio as a senior.
"He's a lot stronger than you think he is," Legg said. "I think a lot of his natural strength, though, comes from his wrestling background. Zach's surviving out there on a lot of natural strength. You can't always measure that in the weight room."
It's hoped that in time those measurables will catch up to those of his peers.
But even if they don't, Reckman, as is, has already shown he can hold his own at guard.
Even if he doesn't look like one.
Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in Gold & Black Illustrated Volume 18, Issue 5. For subscription information, click here.
For the best Purdue team and recruiting coverage out there, click here.
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