OL - DeLeone searching for top five

Offensive Line Coach George DeLeone has no complaints whatsoever about what the candidates for the five positions across the offensive front have tried to accomplish, but, as the old saying goes, "we ain't there yet.". . . The next few days we will publish stories from the assistant coaches on how they felt spring training went. These are the same stories that were published in the Red-Blue Game Program that were distributed last Saturday.

Offensive Line Coach George DeLeone has no complaints whatsoever about what the candidates for the five positions across the offensive front have tried to accomplish, but, as the old saying goes, "we ain't there yet."

"There" is a finished product, ready for the 2005 season and the eight-game SEC schedule.

"We are a work in progress. Every one of these kids has responded extremely well to the changes we have made in the system and the blocking schemes. There is not a day that went by when they didn't try as hard as they could to get better in fundamentals and in the system," the veteran coach noted. "They have given their hearts and souls to get it done. I have been very impressed with their effort, but they are going to have to continue to keep going at this pace to get where we want to be."

For the purpose of this article, George gave us a makeshift depth chart, but he said it may or may not be accurate by the time the first game comes around.

"We are still looking for our five best guys. We will continue to give all of them chances to prove they belong in that group and then go from there, but we have very little set right now," he explained.

At left tackle, DeLeone began his assessment where you would expect, with senior Bobby Harris.

"Bobby will be one of our leaders on the OL. He's an excellent athlete who has a lot of experience. We expect him to have his best year in 2005. We believe he can be successful in the SEC," DeLeone stated. "He's still adjusting a little to our changes in fundamentals and getting comfortable in the system, but he's not a concern of ours."

Even though RS freshman David Traxler has been getting some reps as the number one right tackle recently, DeLeone listed him behind Harris. RS frosh Paul Hurd is also in the mix.

"David has shown potential, but he still has work to do to elevate his game to the level of a starter," said George. "It's a long jump in the transition from the scout team as a true freshman to a starter the next year, but I like his progress to this point. He's got good movement and skills for a big guy, but he needs to get in the weight room and stay there during the offseason.

"Paul gives us everything we ask of him every day. He tries to get better every day – that says a lot."

At left guard, sophomore Darryl Harris was moved from tackle to the inside this spring and has taken most of the number one snaps.

"He's one of the few OL we have returning with game snaps, and his were limited," said DeLeone. "He's a good athlete who could play tackle, guard or center. I love his attitude and athleticism. He will be a good SEC player before his career is over. I like the way he has emerged this spring. We need him to get stronger and bigger, but not at the expense of his athleticism. Ten more pounds of good weight would help him a lot. That will be his goal in the offseason."

Senior Ryan Jones and redshirt freshman Tim Henderson are also vying for playing time at LG. Jones can also swing to right guard, which gives DeLeone some versatility.

"Ryan is a hard-working guy who has been in the program for a long time. His goal will be to work on his flexibility and movement. He's shown signs of being able to help us, but he has to maximize his abilities on every snap. He will help us," George continued. "Tim needs a great offseason. He needs to work on his body, his fundamentals and his techniques, but he's got the raw ability to get it done in the future if he applies himself and dedicates himself to the task at hand. Again, like Traxler, it's a big jump from the scout team to being able to play the next fall."

At center, it's been musical chairs and one "experiment" after another. During this interview, senior Tony Bonds was the top gun, but he sustained a knee injury shortly after and missed a lot of the last half of spring drills.

"Tony is versatile and can play center or guard. He has some experience and showed improvement prior to getting injured this spring," DeLeone evaluated. "He's got a good upside, but we need him to be more consistent and continue progressing in the system. He needs to be a strong contributor for us and must improve his fundamentals daily to reach that goal."

Junior Ben Boyce and sophomore Terrance Houston have also gotten a lot of reps at center. Boyce has actually gotten a lot of snaps with the first team offense, maybe more than Bonds.

"Ben is a hard-working guy who gives his all on every snap," DeLeone commented. "He has to do that because he's got to make up for a lack of size and movement with great fundamentals and great technique. I like his attitude and believe he can help us.

"Terrance is competing for a spot on the two-deep, but he'll have to elevate his game in August to reach that goal. I'm looking forward to his continued improvement."

At right guard, it's been another trial-and-error scenario. DeLeone has tried several players there, including RT Tre' Stallings for several practices. But for the purpose of this assessment, he began with sophomore Thomas Eckers.

"Thomas is a willing kid, a tremendous worker with excellent effort and attitude. He has to overcompensate for his lack of height with great technique," noted George. "Our hope is that he continues his development along those lines."

Junior James McCoy, RS frosh Maurice Miller and redshirt frosh Chris Baker round out the candidates on DeLeone's list.

"James, hopefully, will provide us with some depth. He's strong and physical, but he has to upgrade his fundamentals and his learning of the system," DeLeone assessed. "Maurice is a strong kid, but he's just beginning his career and has a long journey ahead of him. As his weight loss and agility improves, it will accelerate his progress. We are hopeful he will provide us some depth very soon.

"Chris is a willing kid who is dependable and a good is a good man. He does everything he can to help our club."

At right tackle, senior Tre' Stallings is "the guy," for a lot of reasons.

"Tre' and Bobby Harris are my leaders. They are our rocks of Gibraltar, and have to be," DeLeone stated. "Tre' is very experienced and has a great work ethic. He is a very solid player. He does what's right every day and every snap. I expect Tre' to have the best year of his career in 2005."

Sophomore Marcus Cohen and true freshman Lance Lee round out the RT candidates.

"Marcus has improved during spring. He has to continue improving to be a guy we can play. He's headed in the right direction to elevate his game to starter status, but he has to continue to improve his fundamentals and his knowledge of the new system. I will say this – I like the direction he's going in," DeLeone stated. "Lance is making the adjustment to college ball – it takes some time. He's willing and eager. He's a kid who puts a lot into football. I am looking forward to his development in the program."

The wild card in the equation is junior Andrew Wicker, who missed all of spring with a foot injury after moving over to the OL from defensive tackle.

"Andrew is a guard/center candidate. I hate he missed spring drills – he needed it for his fundamentals and for the transition from defense," DeLeone closed. "August camp will be crucial for him, but what little time I had with him, I loved his defensive mentality. I'm looking forward to the fall and him being healthy. I expect him to make an impact when he returns."

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