“The offensive line is the one unit where, coming out of spring, we did not feel like we had the quality depth we need and we are going to have some guys playing who haven’t played a whole lot,” said Werner. “I’m not saying it is a question mark or concern, but I am saying we don’t have the type of depth we have at the other positions and that is something we will have to address.
“The bottom line is that we are expecting some guys who haven’t played a lot to step up and get the job done, like Ben Still, Robert Conyers, Daronte Bouldin, Carlton Martin and newcomers like Fahn Cooper, Rod Taylor and Craig Frigo,” noted Werner. “We have a solid base of Laremy Tunsil, Aaron Morris and Justin Bell, but we need some of those other guys to raise their games to the role they will play, some as starters, some as key backups.”
Spring training did not clear up everything on the offensive line, as Dan attests.
“There is still a battle going on at center between Still and Conyers. We still are not sure exactly who will be playing where other than maybe Tunsil at left tackle and Morris at left guard,” he said. “Our goal is to find the best five guys and put them on the field. We will worry about positions when we get that sorted out.
“We will try some guys at more than one position and see where they fit best.”
“The offensive line is the one unit where, coming out of spring, we did not feel like we had the quality depth we need.”
That statement by Dan belies the continuity theme, or does it?
“You have to understand – everyone but Taylor and Cooper have had a lot of practice reps. They all know the offense. They understand our blocking schemes, they know what to do against different defensive looks,” Werner said. “What everyone needs to understand is that we go against our defense every day and there aren’t many looks we will see that we haven’t seen in practice against this defense. Coach (Dave) Wommack throws everything at us daily and that has really accelerated the learning curve of our offensive linemen.
“Now, it’s a matter of them stepping up to another level as they take on a bigger role. From what I saw in spring training, they are up to the task. I thought their progression from the start of spring until the end was very good and I expect that to continue during August practice. You also have to remember we played with two true freshmen last year who had only been through an August practice, no spring training, and they did well. Coach (Matt) Luke is a great teacher and his guys will know what to do. Again, it’s just a matter of them stepping up and doing it.”
Dan is excited to have Morris coming back into the fold after missing last season.
“We are adding a future NFL player to the fold that we didn’t have in spring training,” Dan said simply. “Aaron is also an experienced guy who has been through a lot of battles. His inclusion to the group is a huge benefit from spring training. Going into last year, he was arguably our best lineman and to lose him hurt us, but that’s water under the bridge. He will be healthy for fall and we can’t wait to get him back going.”
The other main “stalwart,” obviously, is Tunsil.
“Laremy, at this stage of the game, is as good as I have been around and I have been around some high first-round NFL picks,” noted Dan. “After one year of college football, I can’t remember coaching one who has the kind of athletic ability and awareness that he has.
“Having said that, he has to keep going in that direction and take his game to the first-round pick level in a couple of years or so, but he has all the tools to get there. To say we feel really good about the left side of our line is a bit of an understatement. Now, there is still a possibility Laremy and Aaron won’t be side-by-side, but we would prefer to leave them where they are and have a really good left side. Again, we will decide all of that in August. That will all work itself out in August. Also, I don’t want anyone to discount the value of Justin Bell. His experience really showed in spring. He’s versatile and productive. Having another seasoned veteran up front will really help our cause.”
One “wild card” who surfaced in spring training was converted defensive lineman Carlton Martin, who ended spring as the number two right guard behind Bouldin.
“Carlton is very strong and quick. He learned the position quickly. If he has a good August, I believe he can help us his senior year on the OL,” Werner stated. “JUCO transfer Chris Frigo also put himself in the picture in spring training. He’s a tough kid.”