Cowboys Postseason Analysis: Offensive Line

Oklahoma State's running game must improve in 2016, and it all begins with the five returning starters on the offensive line.

I remember going back to the summer and the preseason and how I felt that the Oklahoma State offensive line could end up being vastly improved over the 2014 season. I thought offensive tackle addition Victor Salako would really help, and honestly he did. I was excited about a fully healthy and improved Zach Crabtree at the right tackle.

I knew that the guard-to-guard area would be a work in progress. I also anticipated right up until the day before the start of fall camp that Jesse Robinson would be the starter at one of the guard positions. That actually did not take place until after the midway point of the season. I'm not sure what Robinson's problem was, speculation it was practice habits and/or performance, but he finally moved ahead of veteran Paul Lewis, who suffered from bad knees.

Speaking of bad knees, it did not take the other starting guard Michael Wilson long to collect some knee injuries that caused him to struggle some. Center Brad Lundblade is a little undersized and struggled some with the bigger nose tackles and defensive tackles in the Big 12. The likes of West Virginia's Kyle Rose, Texas' Hasson Ridgeway, K-State's Travis Britz, and the king of them all in Baylor's Andrew Billings were tough on all centers in the conference.

Oklahoma State finished the season with a paltry 1,649 rushing yards (an average per carry of 3.58 yards per carry). That is unacceptable and without the smoke and mirrors that were devised weekly in the offensive staff room that used screen passes, quarterback runs, jet flips, reverses, and other assorted trick plays the offense would have bogged down, and even the spectacular passing attack featuring quarterback Mason Rudolph and the Cowboys receivers would have struggled mightily.

The sacks allowed by the line were down this season from 40 in 2014 to 32 this past season and three of those came in the bowl game. Some of those can be attributed to Rudolph, and especially J.W. Walsh, playing quarterback and not Daxx Garman, who was almost defenseless at quarterback in the 2014 season. Garman was the proverbial sitting duck for opposing pass rushers. This was definitely better and the head coach thought it was much better.

"This group was better (than in 2014)," Gundy said. "They’ll be better next year. We’re a really good pass-protecting team. (During the 2014 season), we were pitiful. Now, we’ve become a good pass-protecting team. We just need to improve in the running area. That will happen.

"It takes time to correct a position (group) that was taken to ground zero. I mean, it was zero. We’ve built it back up. The other side of that is, we don’t have the explosive running back in our program like we had (from 2006 to 2012). Tie those two things together and it makes for a difficult running game."

The question begs, how will that happen? First, all of the starters from this past season return. One fan said to me that was a shame and I quickly corrected him saying that you need all those guys back because they will improve.

Second, you need them there to compete because as the younger linemen develop and are prepared to move in it is important that there is competition for jobs and with players like new junior college tackle signee Larry Williams and sophomore-to-be Matthew Mucha and guard  Lemeafe Galei'a and redshirt freshmen like Johnny Wilson and Marcus Keyes. That is how you sharpen an offensive line.

Greg Adkins is a good coach, a veteran of the NFL and places like Tennessee and Georgia, but offensive line problems aren't fixed quickly. It takes time.   

"There are two things that have to happen: We have to develop size and we have to develop experience," Gundy added. "You cannot develop experience overnight. It’s impossible. We missed on some guys in recruiting, and then two or three of them (were no longer) in our program for disciplinary reasons. You’re pretty much cooked. That’s what happened." 

Competition and continued success in recruiting offensive linemen. Gundy knows while it will take awhile the improvement needs to happen quickly. He has said if the running game is not improved in 2015 then winning 10 games or more again will be out of the question.  

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