Camp Preview — Offensive Line

The Buffs were 85th in total offense last fall. If they are to improve, the team needs better play up front. The good news is signs point to this year's offensive line being better than the past two seasons. Staying healthy will be a key. Inside, a breakdown of the big boys.

OFFENSIVE LINE
66 Brian Daniels, Jr., 6-5, 300
58 Mark Fenton, Jr., 6-4, 295
76 Edwin Harrison, So., 6-4, 305
57 Bryce MacMartin, Jr., 6-2, 290
79 Gary Moore, Sr., 6-6, 320
73 Clint O'Neal, Sr., 6-6, 300
77 Tyler Polumbus, So., 6-8, 285
75 Daniel Sanders, R-Fr., 6-3, 285
63 Jack Tipton, Jr., 6-3, 285

Advice to the Colorado offensive linemen: Stay away from icy sidewalks, make sure you've got spotters every lift in the weightroom and don't kiss your girlfriend when she's got a cold.

This fall, Colorado will field just seven offensive linemen with experience – and only five with more than 25 plays on their résumé. An injury or illness to one of the CU big boys will present problems. Two injuries could bring disaster.

Stay healthy, and this unit has the opportunity to be pretty good in the coming months. Better than the lines of each of the past two seasons. They'll need to be if CU's offense is to play better than in 2003 and ‘04.

The 2004 Colorado offense ranked No. 89 in the country in rushing offense with 124.6 yards per game. CU was 56th in passing offense (215 ypg) and 85th in total offense (339.6 ypg). Improving those numbers begins with the offensive line. Here's a look at who line coach Dave Borbely has to work with.

O'Neal went home to Weatherford, Texas, after school was out in May and ran into family friend Blake Brockermeyer. The former Texas three-time All-American offensive tackle and first-round NFL Draft choice (Carolina, 1995) invited O'Neal to work out with him that month. Word is, it was a fruitful experience. O'Neal is primed to have his best year in a Colorado uniform. He gave up 15 quarterback pressures last fall, but should be ready to do a better job protecting rushers off the edge.

For the second year, O'Neal will line up beside Daniels, a guard Phil Steel tabbed as the 12th best in the nation in his 2005 preseson magazine. After earning the starting spot early in his true freshman season in 2003, it will be interesting to see how far Daniels continues to develop as a player this fall. Has he peaked? Let's hope not.

A key to the unit's success could be Harrison. The sophomore played in 10 games, and had more knockdown blocks per play than any teammate besides Daniels last fall. Those snaps were at tackle, but in an effort to get the five most experienced linemen on the field at the same time, coaches wanted to see Harrison at guard in the spring. He was set to battle for a starting position at guard with Tipton in April before he suffered a shoulder injury (March 18 surgery), and spent spring ball with his arm in a sling. Harrison is listed as probable for the first practice Aug. 4. Even if he's able to participate when camp starts, it may be a while before he's at full strength. Harrison and Tipton owned the team's best bench press after pre-spring workouts with 417 pounds.

Harrison's absence meant Tipton gained valuable experience, running with the first team all spring. The fourth-year junior has languished on the bench for most of his career, and is itching to get onto the field. One thing that's held him back is that he's moved back and forth between guard and tackle since joining the team in 2002. That practice time at both spots could become an asset should someone go down with an injury, providing it's not Fenton.

Fenton, a junior, is coming off a solid spring, and even found his way onto Phil Steele's preseason conference honors list (fourth team). MacMartin will back up Fenton. The jury is still out on the transfer from San Francisco City College.

Coaches tout Polumbus as a future star at split tackle. That future probably won't come until next season. But the athletic Polumbus has the wingspan and quickness you like on the edge. He'll go through some growing pains this fall as a storter, but he also has the tools be effective this season as a third-year sophomore.

Sanders was a pleasant surprise last fall. The last minute offer and commit in the 2004 class showed up bigger than expected, and was ahead of classmate Garrett Collins in terms of being ready for action. Collins left the team for undisclosed reasons over the summer. Sanders will need to be ready to play a key backup role at both guard spots. He's also seen time at center in practices.

Fifth-year senior Gary Moore will back up both tackle spots. His experience is a big plus, especially in this year's scenario. But there are reasons he's never cracked the starting lineup.

Of the incoming freshmen, Devin Head probably has the most opportunity to make an impact this fall. But true freshmen playing on the offensive line is rare.

2004 Offensive Line Statistics
Many schools don't keep offensive line statistics. But on Sundays in the fall, Borbely watches game film from the day before and grades his unit. Here are offensive line stats from last season for the returning players, ranked by number of snaps:

Mark Fenton, 12 games, 788 snaps, 26 KD, 2 TDB, 8 PRS, 1 SkA, 4 Pen, HG 84.1/KSU
Brian Daniels, 12 games, 769 plays, 29 KD, 6 TDB, 5, PRS, 1/2 SkA, 2 Pen, HG 88.2/OSU
Clint O'Neal, 12 games, 546 snaps, 12 KD, 2 TDB, 15 PRS, 2 1/2 SkA, 4 Pen, HG 84.4/KU
Edwin Harrison, 10 games, 222 snaps, 8 KD, 2 TDB, 5 PRS, 0 SkA, 3 Pen, HG 82.6/KU
Gary Moore, 11 games, 101 snaps, 2 KD, 0 TDB, 1 PRS, 0 SkA, 0 Pen, HG 75/NT
Tyler Polumbus, 2 games, 21 snaps, 1 KD, 0 TDB, 0 PRS, 0 SkA, 0 Pen, HG 88.9/NT
Jack Tipton, 3 games, 21 snaps, 0 KD, 0 TDB, 0 PRS, 0 SkA, 0 Pen, HG 66.7/NT

Key: KD-knockdown blocks; TDB-Touchdown blocks; PRS-pass pressures allowed; SkA-sacks allowed; Pen-penalties; HG-High Game percentage of positive plays vs. negative plays.

What does it all mean? This has the potential to be a better unit than CU has fielded in a couple of years. I especially like the trio of Fenton, Daniels and O'Neal — this will be the second year they've played side-by-side-by-side. The group needs to improve its pass protection, something they worked on religiously this fall. At the same time, they'll be opening holes for inexperienced tailbacks, so improvement there is necessary too. Most of all, players need to avoid injury.

Is it a lot to expect? Heck yeah! But this is a team with high expectations of its own. These Buffaloes want to win the North and earn the team's fourth trip in five years to the Big 12 Championship game. Once they get there, they want to bring home a trophy. The last Buffs team that did that, in 2001, fielded a great offensive line. Is this unit up to the task? We'll find out.


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