Spring Preview: Offensive Line

New offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland will introduce himself to the Hurricanes this spring in what should be an interesting set of practices for Miami's big men in the trenches.

Stoutland, who had served the previous seven years as the line coach at Michigan State, replaced former Coach Mario Cristobal when Cristobal accepted an offer to be head coach at cross-town school Florida International University.

Stoutland's lines at Michigan State were nearly always consistently above average. He coached several All-Conference selections and had a multitude of All-Academic selections. At Miami, he'll have four returning starters and several more with many games of experience.

As someone who hasn't had a chance to watch much Michigan State football, it's hard to get a read on their blocking schemes. At first glance, it appears that Stoutland's ideal lineman is tall enough to carry a 300 pound frame. His best line for the Spartans, the 2004 unit which gave up only eight sacks and averaged over 200 yards per game rushing, featured all players at 6'4" or above, two of whom were actually under 300 lbs.

At Miami, he'll have plenty of returnees from a unit that was thrown into the fire in 2006. Last year at this time, Mario Cristobal was attempting to replace four starters on the line. This season, the Hurricanes return four players who started the majority of the season, plus several more who either got significant playing time or were supposed to start and got hurt. Here's a look at the offensive line and their projected positions:

Sophomore Jason Fox, Left Tackle

Fox came to Miami as a 265 lb freshman whom many thought was too small to play right away. Despite that, he quickly impressed the coaches and quickly earned a starting spot at right tackle and held it for most of the year, only switching to left tackle a few games to cover for an injured Reggie Youngblood. Stoutland is expected to make the switch to left tackle a permanent one, so that the ‘Canes can take advantage of his agility and superior footwork. Miami had trouble protecting Kyle Wright's blind side, especially against speed rushers, last season. Part of that may have had something to do with injuries taking their toll on the ‘Canes through the latter part of the season, but Stoutland isn't taking any chances. Fox will be looking to continue to progress into a bonafide star.

Junior Reggie Youngblood, Right Tackle

Youngblood, the highly recruited tackle out of Houston, TX, enters his third year at Miami as the projected starting right tackle. Last season, Youngblood started at left tackle for the ‘Canes, but injuries marred his season. Youngblood sprained his ankle, severely hindering his footwork ability. Now fully healthy, Youngblood will look to display the ability that got him a starting job last season this spring. At right tackle, he won't have to worry about protecting the quarterback's blind side anymore. He has had plenty of time to heal and played in the final games of 2006, so he should be completely healthy by the time spring rolls around. For Youngblood, this year is crucial, as he has already had a chance to develop for two years in Coral Gables. He'll have to show Stoutland something in the spring. One thing that may be in his favor is his size and athletic ability. He's got the ideal measurements for a tackle and certainly looks like a prototypical Jeff Stoutland lineman.

Senior Derrick Morse, Guard/Center

Morse, who started last season at guard for the Hurricanes, is the veteran and the leader of this group. Before starting in 2006, he had played in 17 games for the Hurricanes at guard. With former center Anthony Wollschlager moving on due to graduation, Stoutland is going to give Morse a look at center. The center/quarterback exchange between he and the quarterbacks will be particularly interesting to watch. Last spring, with Wollschlager sitting due to injury, Cristobal moved tackle Tyrone Byrd to center and put him on the first team. Unfortunately, exchange problems put him back at tackle fairly quickly. Will the transition to center be a successful one for D-Mo? We'll just have to wait and see. If he doesn't pan out, he'll be moved back to his natural position, guard.

Senior Andrew Bain, Guard

Bain has always been a physical specimen, but up until last year, as a fourth year junior, was never able to put together a solid string of starts. This spring he'll be looking to change that perception when he battles for the starting role at guard. Bain is one of the strongest players on the team. Last spring, he squatted 600 lbs and bench pressed 385 lbs. Despite his impressive strength, he's been criticized for being slow and out of shape for most of his career. This is his last spring, so if he's going to put it together, now would be a good time. He has a stout build best reserved for the interior, so he'll stay there this spring.

Junior Chris Rutledge, Tackle/Guard

There are rumblings that Rutledge may be moved to guard, an interesting move to say the least. He has plenty of experience as a tackle, and has a tackle's body at 6'5" 325 lbs. Historically, Rutledge has had some problems containing defensive ends in pass protection, and that may be a reason for a switch to the interior. Again, like Morse, if he doesn't work out at his new position, he'll be moved back to tackle. Coach Stoutland must feel that he has the talent to play in the starting five, or he probably wouldn't have been moved. He had a good rebound year in 2006, so it'll be interesting to see how he adjusts.

These five players project to start out on the first team when spring begins early next week. However, don't count out other players to steal the spotlight.

Last season, Tyrone Byrd was on the first team before being injured in fall practice. Healthy this year, he will look to push for a starting spot.

Ian Symonette is another name to look for. Symonette is a mountain of a man, checking in at 6'9" and an astonishing 380 lbs. He will challenge Rutledge for the guard spot.

Matt Pipho, who will back Morse up at center, will probably be bumped up to first team if Morse should have problems with the transition.

A.J. Trump should also figure to get some looks this spring, though it is unknown how far along he is in his recovery. He would probably be starting at center if it were not for that injury.

It is a certainty that players will move around and position battles will be won and lost this spring. The list gathered here is definitely subject to change. The great thing about spring is the atmosphere of open competition for precious starting spots.

Who is to say that a diamond in the rough, perhaps a Joel Figueroa, won't step it up during the spring and beat some favorites out on the depth chart?

The importance of a solid offensive line is unquestionable. This spring, Miami will look to lay the foundation in the trenches for a solid 2007.

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