Spring Preview: Defensive And Offensive Lines

With our player-by-player series completed it is time to take a look at the position groups with previews of where Oklahoma State football is as a team. In today's second part, we have two very different groups as far as where they are heading entering the 2014 season and the much publicized and discussed season opener with defending national champion Florida State.

The defensive line will need to be an anchor for the defense, and maybe an anchor for the entire team early in the 2014 season. It is by far the most experienced area on the team and maybe the most gifted in talent.

Meanwhile, the offensive line has serious holes to fill. There are several offensive linemen sitting out spring that will hopefully be set to go for fall camp in August.

On the defensive line we'll start inside where you lose an All-Big 12 performer and an unselfish team guy in defensive tackle Calvin Barnett. Big Calvin worked very hard to make himself a target and opposing teams devoted a lot of blockers on him and that allowed the defensive ends and linebackers to run free and make a lot of plays igniting a new reputation of success for Oklahoma State defensively.

Barnett will be hard to be replaced but his partner James Castleman seemed to soak up Barnett's influence and looks to be ready to have a similar influence. Castleman is more athletic, and combined with strong and determined Ofa Hautau that duo should be really good inside. Hautau played well last season as a junior college transfer and those guys always seem to bump it up a notch their second year.

I would expect Castleman, like Barnett, to be an All-Big 12 performer next season. You have to have quality depth at tackle so as to rotate and keep fresh legs in the game.

Eric Davis is undersized but could be a factor. In fact, he really needs to factor in the rotation. They are young but redshirt freshmen Ben Hughes (6-3, 310) and Vincent Taylor (6-3, 288) are both set to make an impact. They could be special and this spring needs to be their launching pad. I liked what I saw of them in practice last season and now they will get all the work they need.

Defensive end is really a pleasant conversation topic for Oklahoma State fans. You hate to lose veteran Tyler Johnson, but at the end of the season and in the Cotton Bowl game it was impossible to not see how fast and furious junior Jimmy Bean and sophomore Emmanuel Ogbah were coming on. That pair made a lot of plays combining for 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for losses.

Besides Bean and Ogbah, there are really solid returners at defensive end in junior college standout Sam Wren and Trace Clark. Victor Irokansi is hoping to make a push for more playing time as well.

Then there is Vili Levini. The 6-3, 265-pound Levini was a destroyer on scout team last fall that the offensive coaches raved about. He looked really good in work during bowl practices. He is big, strong, and athletic for that size. Look out as Levini could really make a strong impact during the spring.

Over on the offensive side, new line coach Bob Connelly has almost a blank canvas to paint on with the graduation losses of starting guards Parker Graham and Brandon Webb, the early graduation departures of starting center Jake Jenkins and versatile back-up lineman Travis Cross.

Take into account that one of the most talented athletes on the team in projected starter at tackle Devin Davis will sit out spring following his ACL tear and surgery from last August, and part-time starting tackle Brandon Garrett is still in a boot from his broken leg and surgery at the Cotton Bowl.

That leaves fifth-year senior and starting tackle Daniel Koenig and part-time starting tackle Chris Grisbhy out there.

Connelly can plan on having Davis and Garrett back in the fall, but if I were him I would forget that this spring and work to forge a complete starting line and hopefully, a third tackle, third guard, and back-up center. If you come out of spring with that scenario and then Davis and Garrett return in August then you will basically have a two-deep.

It is getting there that won't be easy. Zac Veatch and Paul Lewis are the prime candidates at center, unless Connelly sees someone else like a Michael Wilson or another young player that could move in there. I honestly like Veatch but he did have some shot gun snap problems last spring and that has to be fixed. Veatch and Lewis are both solid blockers and one could be at center with the other playing a guard position.

You know you have Koenig at a tackle and Grisbhy at the other with the hope that red-shirt freshman and very talented Zach Crabtree will push Grisbhy or maybe both. Crabtree is physically what you order for that position.

Of the pups, Wilson is a sophomore needing to challenge somewhere on the line. I look at Robinson as a tackle, but he could play guard. Hegwood needs to improve and could play at guard or tackle. I would expect Jesse Robinson and Jack Kurzu to be guards. It is a lot of unknowns and right now a puzzle.

The closer that Connelly and his players can come to putting the pieces together, realizing two key pieces are likely to be added this summer, then the closer Oklahoma State comes to good offensive line play.

Mike Gundy has said he is happy with Connelly, who brings in a blocking scheme that Gundy badly wanted implemented into his offense, a run first and pass adaptable style of play up front.

The recipe of what is there to do this spring could signal a lot of inside drills and plenty of pass pro work before launching a lot of long team periods.


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