Concern over the offensive line at Oklahoma State has been a constant for the past couple of seasons, but it appears that may subside. Cowboy fans have always been careful about trusting offensive line coaches in particular. Josh Henson, a former OSU player and assistant coach, is one they trust.
One of my standard wishes every spring when you get around to the spring football game is for fans to get to see a representative example of what spring practice has looked like at every position and go into the summer on the same page with discussion here on Go Pokes and on the radio show I do on Triple Play Sports Radio. It allows for great discussion and a good feel for what the team will look like when they resume work in August for camp and getting ready for the season. I think the fans got a decent representation in the spring game on April 15 with a couple of exceptions. With starting offensive linemen Zach Crabtree, Larry Williams, and back-up Deionte Noel it made it impossible to get that from the offensive line. The loss of defensive end Jordan Brailford for the spring game also had ramifications for line play on both sides of the ball.
The best way to explain it is to be blunt. The Orange, which played with starting quarterback Mason Rudolph and back-up candidate Taylor Cornelius, had a solid group in junior college newcomer Arlington Hambright at left tackle, starter Marcus Keyes at left guard, solid back-up center Johnny Wilson, red-shirt freshman Matt Kegel at right guard, and back-up right tackle Shane Richards. A decent group and they showed that with the 24 points and the 403-yards of total offense, 298-yards passing and 105-yards rushing.
The Black squad has potential starter and red-shirt freshman Dylan Galloway at left tackle, walk-on red-shirt freshman Ry Schneider at left guard, starting center Brad Lundblade, potential back-up right guard Lemaefe Galea'i, and red-shirt freshman right tackle Teven Jenkins. It would be hard to find anytime, make that impossible to find anytime in spring practice where that group lined up together. Offensive line play is a lot about knowing the guy next to you, what plays he can handle against what fronts and what plays where he needs help. Communication and practice with the communication is important. The Orange had some of that, the Black very little. It was easy to spot as typically a defender or two would come free on both sides during the game. In some cases, quarterbacks, running backs, and Cowboy backs picked up on it and compensated so a play could be made or at least there was no loss or turnover. The Black with younger and lesser experienced quarterbacks going against a more veteran defensive front struggled with no points and 37-yards of total offense.
I promise you, it was predictable and not a surprise to the coaching staff.
The offensive line will have lots of work to do in August at Fall Camp, but from head coach Mike Gundy to quarterback Mason Rudolph to offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and offensive line coach Josh Henson the progress on the offensive line is evident. The line improved in spring. The first scrimmage with both first and second offensive units with multiple quarterbacks, running backs and the usual rotation of receivers moved the ball well. When the defense came back with a strong effort in the second scrimmage as it wore on and the offense made plays you could see where the offensive line was in part facilitating those plays.
The best way I can explain it is give a prospective depth chart for the offensive line and explain myself.
Left Tackle: The transfer of fifth-year senior and two-year starting left tackle at Cal in Aaron Cochran is huge. He is huge at 6-8, 351 pounds. He is a veteran of an offense similar to the that of the Cowboys and he should come in hungry to have success, both personal and team and they go hand-in-hand. His arrival now allows for junior college transfer Arlington Hambright and talented red-shirt freshman Dylan Galloway to progress without immediate pressure. I think both will be solid. It also allows for Hambright to be looked at in other positions on the line if need be.
Left Guard: This is solid as following last season and especially the Alamo Bowl win over Colorado a case could be made that now sophomore starting left guard Marcus Keyes was as good as any player on the offensive line. He progressed so much as a very young starter on the line. He is physical, has a little bit of a mean streak, and an NFL pedigree and it all adds up to being on the high end progression for Keyes future. His back-up is likely Deionte Noel, who is one of those players somewhat forgotten under former OL coach Greg Adkins, but Josh Henson has recycled to see if he could discover more and in Noel he has. Red-shirt freshman Matt Kegel could work in here or on the right side.
Center: Brad Lundblade is a three-year starter and gets better all the time. He is smart, knows the job and knows the competition. Johnny Wilson is solid as the back-up and young. Minnesota transfer Tyler Moore has to sit out this season and will be ready to compete after Lundblade has graduated.
Right Guard: Larry Williams went out toward the middle of last season but was a starter, so I think qualifies here as a returning starter. He is a good answer to step in for the graduated Michael Wilson and there is some budding depth here with junior Lemaefe Galea'i and red-shirt freshman Matt Kegel.
Right Tackle: A fourth senior starter and a three-year starting veteran in Zachary Crabtree is at right tackle. He is able to go from right to left and back again making him versatile if injuries strike at say, left tackle. The back-up here is senior Shane Richards, who did play some at right tackle on the starting offensive line in the spring as Henson and offensive analyst A.J. Ricker looked at a couple of different combinations with the tackle position. The transfer of Aaron Cochran likely solidifies keeping Crabtree on the right side.
I think without injuries and as explained that the offensive line can be solid to becoming a strong suit for the 2017 Cowboys.
Throughout spring Josh Henson was happy with effort and the attention he was getting from the offensive line. They were coming in and watching extra video, both practice, cut-ups, and technique work. As you can hear Henson explain in the video, having A.J. Ricker, a player Henson coached and someone that has been around him previous, knows what he wants, expects, and how he teaches it, is invaluable in progressing the offensive line. Communication in the meeting room is strong and direct with the two coaches.
Don't judge the offensive line from the spring game, judge it when you see it against Tulsa in the season opener.