The Houston Cougars 2015 season was a special one by any measure. It was the first of what appears to many for one of the hottest young coaches in the profession in Tom Herman, it was the team’s first conference championship in a decade, and was capped by an entertaining 38-24 win over Florida State in the Chik-Fil-a Peach Bowl.
One of the many tough obstacles that goes into special football seasons is overcoming injuries which can happen on any play; even in practice, and can stop a promising season in it’s tracks.
As Cougar Digest continues it’s previews of the Cougars heading into next week’s start of camp we take a look at the one unit that seemed to overcome the most last season to keep the momentum going through the season, the offensive line.
Derek Warehime coaches the line and shared with me in the spring how he and his unit, in the midst of losing several key players throughout the season on the line, didn’t wan’t to be the unit that caused the run they were having to fall apart. Somehow they mixed and matched more than half-a-dozen different line-ups throughout the year as injuries picked off what little depth they had, at times forcing freshmen into action.
The glaring positive that can come from a season like that for a young offensive line if experience. Not only did some young guys get thrown into the fire and grow up quickly at times, they also had a lot of cross training throughout the unit that should help when piecing together a solid two-deep for the fall.
As the Cougars head into camp there is a lot of promise to go along with the youth, and unless the injury gods have it out gain for Warehime’s group there should be progress.
There are a couple of players who seem safe to pencil in as starters entering camp, center Will Noble who was put into service last season and went on to be named to numerous Freshman All-American teams, and right tackle Na’Ty Rodgers who is a junior college transfer and took pretty much every rep in the spring at that position.
After that, camp will determine a lot of how the two-deep develops as several players battle for starting jobs and those that do not get the nod will be primary back-ups.
Left tackle will be a battle between junior Marcus Oliver and redshirt freshman Josh Jones. Oliver got the most experience last season but Jones took a lot of reps with the first team in the spring. The staff was able to redshirt Jones last year and he has continued to develop.
The back-up tackles will be made up of whoever doesn’t secure the starting job on the left side as well as redshirt freshmen Jarrid Williams and Ryan Deshotel (who switched after last season from tight end to tackle)
The guard positions will be worth keeping an eye on in camp as well as junior Josh Thomas, sophomores Kameron Eloph and Mason Denley, and senior Mac Long will battle for the two spots flanking Noble. Thomas seemed to be putting some games together early last year before becoming one of the injury casualties. Eloph and Denley, both converted defensive linemen (Eloph made the switch during the year the Cougars needed depth so badly), took the majority of the spring reps at right and left guard respectively.
Junior college transfer Alex Fontana will emerge as the back-up to Noble and could theoretically play the guard spots as well if needed. For the sake of mentioning because of last season, the Cougars have a solid freshman class of linemen coming in with Dixie Wooten, Keenan Murphy and Braylon Jones. I’m certain Warehime and Herman would much rather redshirt the entire group.