What went wrong on o-line, and how to fix it

FOR OREGON STATE, with no postseason bowl, there's plenty of time before spring ball and for the postmortem on all that went wrong in 2010. The offensive line should be at the start of any conversation on this season's struggles, and that goes hand-in-hand with offensive line recruiting. But what's the real issue there, and how might OSU best go about solving it? BF.C examines the matter in full..

It was repeated ad nauseum this year (when Michael Philipp wasn't healthy, which was often) the Beavers featured four players who began their careers at OSU as walk-on's on the offensive line. It seems like that's sort of a, "Well! There you have it," type of conclusion, but realistically – it's not. Not at all.


Mike Remmers at times this season was not only Oregon State's most physical guy up front, but often the Beaver Hogs' finest lineman. He earned a scholarship as a freshman, and will next year begin his fourth year as a starter. He has a legitimate shot at playing in on Sundays. Too many writers have forgotten the way he stoned USC All-Americans in 2008, as a freshman, as Oregon State shocked the Trojans.

Remmers no longer deserves to be painted with the "walk-on" brush. But is he a prototype tackle?

THE SHORT ANSWER, is no, he isn't. Like Andy Levitre, an excellent tackle for the Beavers, Remmers is most likely going to get a looks as a pro at offensive guard.

And for many offensive tackles who played for the Beavers, the story is the same -- Tavita Thompson was very athletic but when it came down to it, he was a powerful blocker at his best at the point of attack. In short, that's an offensive guard.

IT TAKES A different type of player to be an offensive tackle. Jim Wilson of the OSU broadcasting crew mentioned in the Civil War postgame that offensive tackle is the No. 1 most difficult position to recruit, followed by defensive tackle. It requires a skills set and size that frankly, is just plain rare. And because it's so rare, a staff is often forced to take their best guard and put him at tackle.

Such is the case with Philipp, a player who everybody wanted and a blue chip prospect – at offensive guard. Not tackle. At times, Philipp has struggled with playing out of position. To be fair, Philipp was bitten hard by the injury bug this season. And he never had a redshirt season, having just completed his sophomore campaign. And there were plenty of other reasons for the struggles up front.

ON THE SURFACE, the line looked just fine headed into ‘10, and with an ever-improving Jacquizz Rodgers and the maturation of fullback Will Darkins, the Beavers *should* have been able to run the ball. So why did the line take a step back? What was so different?

The departure of 300-pound Gregg Peat, the anchor of the '09 offensive line, meant Burke Ellis, a 270-pounder replaced him. Ellis was commendable in spot duty in '09 – and you can get away with playing light in spot duty.

But getting that necessary push on a d-tackle, in every snap in every game, is a different story. It's a long season, with a lot of wear and tear, and both of OSU's offensive guards needed help as the season wore on. Help can be assigned to one or the other, but not both.

THE 2010 PERSONNEL also meant playbook changes – you have to match what your o-line can do best. Gone from the playbook was a veritable staple of OSU years past – the trap. Counters and pulling guards were veritable strangers as well.

OC Danny Langsdorf didn't bump his head this offseason and suddenly forget all about them, so the only real conclusion one can logically arrive at is that the OSU staff just felt they weren't able to execute them. And therein lies the answer to so many woes. The blocking scheme was necessarily vanilla, with an emphasis on the word, ‘necessarily'.

WHAT MIGHT IT have been like, to have a 315-320 pound road grader like Philipps anchoring the offensive line at guard instead of struggling in space? For all the talk about OSU needing to improve their OL recruiting – and it's valid – maybe the answer can be found by looking at a philosophy once used by another Pac-10 team, one they're bringing back.

The Cougars under Mike Price often exceeded expectations much the same way that OSU has done, by finding diamonds in the rough. Where the two differed in o-line recruiting, however, was in the fundamental approach. But that may be changing. .

Beaver fans all know what OSU's approach has been -- find kids that are football players first and foremost. Slow 40 times (Mike Hass) or diminutive stature (James and Jacquizz Rodgers) or lack of recruiting attention (Jordan Poyer) haven't deterred Oregon State from offering kids and turning them into stars. And it does work for OSU. Except on the offensive line.

Maybe it's time to take a page from WSU. What the Mike Price-era Cougs did, and what Paul Wulff is doing again, is to go with the feet-and-frame approach. If they had good feet and a good frame, the Cougs went after them.

Sam Lightbody was a DE/TE prospect with a 6-8 lanky frame and great feet. Mike Utley was 6-7 and 220 pounds coming out of high school. Josh Parrish was a high school tight end. Calvin Armstrong was a lightly recruited kid the Cougs wrapped up early, and a solid basketball player, and he left WSU for the NFL at 6-8 and 310 pounds.

And it's not as if WSU has a monopoly on the idea. Taking a look at the 2010 NFL draft, there were several converted tight ends who wound up being drafted. Charles Brown of USC went to the Saints in the 2nd round -- 6-5, 297 pounds, recruited as a tight end. Ed Wang of Virginia Tech went in the 5th round to Buffalo -- 6-5, 309 after playing his first two years of college football as a tight end. Selvish Capers of West Virginia went in the 7th round to the Redskins at 6-5, 308 – yet another converted tight end.

IF YOU HAVE trouble recruiting prototypical tackles, and by definition many schools will, then maybe the answer is to look elsewhere -- you still get that diamond in the rough, but one you can make into a tackle. Otherwise, it can too often be like trying to stuff a square peg into a round hole, putting that blue chip offensive guard at tackle, and playing undersized walk-ons at guard.

How, specifically, might that relate to Oregon State? Oh, I'm so glad you asked.

An intriguing prospect in this year's Beaver class, one that might well fit that philosophy, is TE prospect Kellen Clute.

Clute is 6-5, 220 pounds. And he has lots of room to pack on the pounds and muscle. "I came away very impressed with Clute. He moves very well for his size… His frame is far from fully developed… will definitely be able to add the weight and strength needed for blocking," says Jake Worthen, Scout.com NW recruiting analyst. Good frame.

Clute is rated as the No. 67 TE prospect in the country but here's the interesting part – that's only Scout's projected position for him, and he doesn't play tight end in high school. Mt Spokane plays a spread offense that doesn't use a tight end. Clute is a RB/FB. College coaches who saw Clute's junior film told him he was the biggest running back they had ever seen who still runs like a running back. Good feet.

And what the OSU coaches saw in their camp was that Clute can move, and he can block. By the end of his junior season, Clute already held the school record for pancake blocks.

OSU HAS FOUR tight ends on next year's roster. Joe Halahuni, a senior; Colby Prince, a junior; and Connor Hamlett and Tyler Perry, who will be redshirt freshmen. Hamlett is 6-6, 265 pounds, and he too might be a tempting prospect to move to tackle. John Braun is a promising tackle already. It's not hard to see the Beavers just needing a couple more solutions to avoid a repeat of this season's offensive line woes.

None of this is likely to bear out in 2011, the best offensive linemen get to be the way as their junior and senior seasons roll around. But the lessons of 2010 should help spell out just how critical is the Beavers find a solution in offensive tackle recruiting, so that their most physically dominant players on the roster aren't playing out of position.

As for 2011, the best case scenario one could hope for is that Mau Nomani will enroll for the winter term and be ready by fall to play offensive tackle for the Beavers, enabling Philipp to move inside, and putting Burke Ellis into the patented Andy Levitre utility player role. It would be asking a lot of Nomani, who will have a thick coat of rust to shake off from his recently completed 2-year Mormon mission.

But Ellis is a good o-lineman, he's athletic and quick and has good technique, he could jump in with both feet admirably as he did when Peat or Johnson went out of the game in '09.

And after a season of bad breaks, a couple things falling the right way could ignite the offensive line, and turn 5-7 into something much, much more.

BeaverBlitz Top Stories