When Pro Football Focus tabbed Tariq Cole the most-underrated player in the Big Ten, the soft-spoken sophomore shrugged off the honor.
“Yeah, it’s cool,” said Cole, who was rated the top left tackle in the Big Ten and 11th nationally with an 82.6 overall grade. “I haven’t really been one for the spotlight since I got here. Mom and dad taught me that football is a team sport, shouldn’t look for individual goals that are just things that make you feel better.”
In his first year as the blindside protector at left tackle, Cole is a solid contributor on the offensive line.
But he isn’t the only underclassman with upside at the tackle position.
Redshirt freshman Kamaal Seymour, who converted from defensive tackle in training camp, started the past two games at right tackle. He will do so again when the Scarlet Knights (2-7, 0-6) play Saturday at Michigan State (2-7, 0-6).
“It’s been pretty good,” Seymour said of the transition from defense to offense. “In the first game I ever played, it was kind of shaky. But now that I’m playing more and more, that’s helping it make it more slow.”
Offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer addressed the progressions of Cole and Seymour during his Monday press conference. He singled out Cole, who Mehringer said bought in after he moved from guard.
“Tariq has played well,” Mehringer said. “I think for Tariq to continue to improve, I think there’s always going to be an experience factor, especially in this league. I think coming out of playing the scout-team defense is not the same when you’re getting rushed by some of the defensive ends in this league. So he’s continuing to improve his fundamentals right now dramatically, he’s just got a ways to go in terms of being a complete, solid football player.
“But I think the talent is there. I do think that the drive, the motivation is there for him to be a really good football player down the road and he’s got to continue to work. He’s a kid that, he takes coaching applies it. He goes out and practices really, really hard. And so I think that if he continues to do that, he’s got a chance to be that blindside tackle that people talk about as an underrated guy that down the road will turn some heads.”
Mehringer isn’t the only one who sees the room for improvement.
Cole said offensive line coach AJ Blazek continues to coach him up and refuses to let him get complacent.
“He told me (the Pro Football Focus article) was good recognition, but I still have a lot to focus on in my technique and playing left tackle in the Big Ten, to stay lower, have my pad low,” Cole said. “I do have a lot of work to do to become a better football player here and in the Big Ten. So he just told me to keep doing what I’m doing and get better everyday.”
Cole continues to learn as a student of the position in his first year, but he also tutors Seymour as the redshirt freshman adjusts to his starting spot on the offensive line.
“I just tell Kamaal to slow down,” Cole said. “He doesn’t need to think as much as he does. I know it’s a very new position for him playing from defense — going from defense — to offense. So I just try to tell him to slow everything down and it’ll come to you. Just rely on what you’ve been taught.”
Seymour said the pointers help from Cole, who doubles as his hotel roommate the night before game days.
“He’s been very helpful, especially with away games and home games and stuff,” Seymour said. “In the hotel room, I can ask (Cole) any question and he’ll help me out no matter what.”
As the future of the offensive line, Cole and Seymour still have a long way to go.
But through the experience of their first year as starters, they plan to do so together.
“Me and Kamaal bond all the time,” Cole said. “We’re roommates at the hotel. We talk to each other a lot. When he needs something, I always tell him he can text me, call me whenever he needs to. I’m fine with that.
“Sometimes when we go out, we’ll probably go out to eat food or something to talk about football. Me, him and Blazek, we eat a lot during the week. So I know a lot about him that I didn’t know before.”