Offensive Line Stands Tall For Cowboys

Heading into the 2010 season, the Cowboy football team had not only one of the least experienced offensive lines in the conference, but in the entire country.

Then-sophomore guard Lane Taylor was the only lineman to ever start a game and the line was pinned as a major concern going into the season.

Things have changed.

Entering 2011, the Pokes return every starter and have gone from a question mark to an inarguable strength and one of the elite line units nationally.

Even with last year's tremendous performance from the unit, the offensive line enters 2011 with something it didn't have a year ago — continuity.

"I think (continuity is) everything. I think that's probably one of the most undervalued aspects of offensive line play," senior center Grant Garner said. "I don't think I ever realized just how important it was until I came back for two-a-days this year and there is a huge difference between this year and last year. I have total comfort in my guards and I know what they're going to do. That's huge.

"We have absolute trust in each other."

And that trust was earned on a line that finished eighth-nationally in sacks allowed with less than one per game and powered an offense that finished with the nation's ninth-best rusher, third-leading passer and Biletnikoff winning receiver.

Garner enters 2011 on the Rimington Award watch list, given to the nation's best center, and right tackle Levy Adcock was a unanimous all-Big 12 selection last year and is regarded as one of the nation's elite in 2011.

"I think we're really good; we had a good year last year and there's no reason we can't be better this year," Garner said. "I think coach (Joe) Wickline has done a great job of keeping us level headed and focused on what we need to do to be better. I think (Brandon) Weeden makes us look pretty good, too, by getting rid of the ball fast and making good decisions. Our backs are incredible, they're definitely one of the main reasons we're able to do what we do."

But for as good a year as the line had in 2010, they seem to have reached a consensus that they expect more from themselves in 2011 because of cohesion.

"It's made us a lot more comfortable," senior left tackle Nick Martinez said. "When you have the same guys lining up next to you for an entire season, you get to know what they do in certain situations and how they respond to certain blitzes and pressures. We had a lot of success last year but now we really know how to play together."

With Taylor being a sophomore last season and the only lineman with starting experience, this season he enters as the youngest returning starter with seniors Grant Garner and Jonathan Rush joining him on the interior of the line and senior tackles Martinez and Adcock on the outside.

It has also been widely discussed that Navarro (Texas) College transfer Michael Bowie, a 2009 OSU commit, could be playing himself into a starting role. Bowie, a Sand Springs native, was the No. 34 overall JUCO prospect and won the junior college national championship last season.

With Bowie joining the mix, as well as, young linemen like Gerron Anthony, Daniel Koenig, Parker Graham and Brandon Webb, among others, the line has enviable depth and experience across the board. That blend is something offensive line coach Joe Wickline sees as a luxury.

?"I really think that when you have experience back that has suited up and played a lot of football plays, that's very important. You really can't replace that. You'd rather not go into a year and say ‘Well I have to replace all five guys and then next year hopefully we'll have two or three guys back,'" Wickline said. "The depth is good here now; they're doing a nice job."??

Garner gave Wickline a lot of the credit for how far the line progressed last season with four new starters.

"I think he sets the mentality for our line and he gives us our identity," Garner said. "He's a great coach and he keeps it loose to allow us to have fun. While he does that, he makes sure we're not feeling too good about ourselves either. I think he's an awesome coach."

And that trait of keeping his linemen grounded and hungry to improve has spilled over into how they feel heading into 2011.

"We meshed well last fall and then we had the spring and the summer to get even better, I think we're back and stronger than ever," Adcock said. "We're real good friends and we just know what to expect at all times. We react faster because you know exactly what the guy next to you is bringing. We absolutely still have plenty of work to do but we're in a much more comfortable spot that a year ago."

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