Former Hawkeye Matt Kroul makes NFL transition from defense to offense
26-year-old says he hasn't played O-line since his freshman year at Mount Vernon
IOWA CITY†ó Matt Kroul is well-versed in the business side of football economics. In NFL terms that means he's got a locker for one minute, and it's cleared out the next minute.
Kroul started a school-record 50 consecutive games at defensive tackle for Iowa from 2005-2008. He joined the Jets as a free agent in 2009 but was released after training camp. He spent that season on the Jets' practice team. In 2010, he made the Jets' active roster for six games and recorded three tackles. But, again, he was released and became a practice squad player.
Last year, the Mount Vernon native was midway through his third Jets' training camp when as assistant discussed a way for Kroul to get more out of his NFL career. Kroul was asked to move across the line to offense.
Kroul, 26, thought about it. He set his ego aside and agreed.
"You can be hard-headed and make it as a D-lineman still, but he laid the facts out to me, and I kind of took it and ran with it," Kroul said. "I played a couple of games in the preseason as an O-linemen. It was a little rough at first, but hopefully by the end of the season I was coming around and competing with everybody."
The decision was somewhat easy for Kroul†as he looked at the Jets' roster. In 2011, the team drafted defensive tackle Mohammed Wilkerson in the first round and defensive lineman Kenrick Ellis with the next pick in the third round. There wasn't much room for Kroul.
"As a D-lineman itís always tough," he said. "Hopefully with my 6-1, 6-2 frame I can have a chance to stick as a center or guard more so than as a D-lineman. Sometimes it kind of becomes a numbers game. Theyíre always looking for that 6-5, 310-pound guy. We drafted two high picks that are D-linemen and when youíre a free agent guy on that bottom third, that affects you in that aspect.
"It's definitely a business. You put everything into it, and hopefully it works out."
Kroul, who has bulked up to 300 pounds,†spent most of last season on the Jets' practice squad as both an interior offensive and defense†lineman. He hopes to make the team this year as a backup at guard or center and also compete on defense in goal-line situations. It's been an interesting transition for Kroul, who guessed the last time he played offensive line was "my freshman year in high school."
"Itís definitely different, but itís technique-oriented which kind of like," he said. "Itís not just pure athleticism and length and power with O-line; you have different options for different blocks, which I kind of like on that side."
Kroul returned to Iowa in January and has spent the off-season working out with Hawkeyes' strength coach Chris Doyle and several former college†teammates. He and Iowa defensive line coach†(and former offensive line coach) Reese Morgan often discuss their respective off-season moves.
"If I walked through the office, Iím definitely going to stop in there," Kroul said of Morgan's office. "I think the reason why they made that move is he's a helluva a teacher, and I think thatís what Coach (Kirk) Ferentz in mind with that move. They have a really young D-line. It seems like itís going well so far. Thatís what spring ball is for."
Kroul also has paid close attention to Iowa's offensive line drills while attending a few practices. New Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz previously coached tight ends with New England, one of the Jets' divisional rivals.
"Iíve definitely stopped out a couple of times and watched individual (drills), watched what Brian†is teaching," Kroul said.
Kroul and his wife, Nicole, were married in March and bought a house in North Liberty this spring. The commute to off-season training in Iowa City is much shorter for Kroul this year, who used to drive from Mount Vernon to the football complex."We finally got a home base and started our future here," he said.