Over the past few years the offensive line has been marred with inconsistency and despite entering last spring with five returning starters there were still question marks about the overall unit. With a new coaching staff in place and a much more experienced offensive line coach in Steve Shankweiler, a few changes were anticipated. Coach Shankweiler brought with him 36 years of coaching experience at schools such as East Carolina, Georgia Tech, Cincinnati and South Carolina. His combined experience is a stark change when compared to his predecessor.
Despite the inconsistency, the offensive line did have some talented players, and were led by senior center and All-Big East performer Sampson Genus. Genus has been a rock for three years in the middle of USF's offensive line in his career. Despite a one-year stint on the defensive line, Genus is poised to go down as one USF's all time best offensive linemen. Jacob Sims, a former walk-on has been versatile performer for USF, able to play all five positions on the offensive line. His more natural position is probably on the interior or specifically center but with Genus there; Sims showed he can handle other positions and played right tackle this past season. Rounding out the other positions were senior left tackle Jamar Bass, junior left guard Jeremiah Warren and junior right guard Chaz Hine.
The USF offensive line played well for most of the season. Early on, they were tested against one of the strongest defensive fronts in the nation in the University of Florida. The offensive line helped pave the way for a 244-yard rushing performance and an impressive 6.3 yards per carry. They only allowed one sack and only four tackles for a loss. According to Coach Holtz, 80% of the offensive line graded out as winners that day.
Despite the good performances, there were some bad one ones as well. When starting left tackle Jamar Bass was ruled out for the Syracuse game, backup LT Mark Popek replaced him. The offensive line did not perform well. For whatever reason, they could not control Syracuse's pressure packages. Quarterback B.J. Daniels was under heavy pressure especially from the weak-side. This was the team's second worst offensive output of the season but easily the worst offensive line performance of the season. The next game against West Virginia actually was the worst offensive output of the season but the offensive line was actually a little better than the previous week and that game was due to poor QB and WR performance.
However, after that poor two-week stretch, the offensive line played with more consistency, the Cincinnati game represented the Bulls' best offensive output of the season. This led to five consecutive weeks of rushing for 135 yards or more and its no coincidence that the Bulls won five out of their last seven games.
With the Bulls losing three starters on the offensive line, the staff will be searching for replacements this upcoming spring. Gone will be Bass, Sims and Genus but their replacements will not be as green as you would expect. Junior Mark Popek seems poised to take over at left tackle, despite having an up and down season, he showed flashes of potential and brings good size to the position at 6'7" 310 lbs as well two years of playing experience. Replacing right tackle Jacob Sims could be a more difficult task if the Bulls do not intend shift around the current starters. Redshirt freshman Quinterrius Eatmon will get a strong look at the position and brings a lot size (6'6" 340 lbs) to boot. Replacing Genus will be the toughest of all, not only because of his talent, but his leadership as well. Senior Kevin McCaskill will finally get his opportunity after being a backup for four years. McCaskill was able to get his feet wet this past season when Genus went down with an injury and responded with a good performance. It remains to be seen whether or not he can maintain that throughout a full season but he is not devoid of valuable experience. Other guys in the mix include versatile lineman Danous Estenor, Damien Edwards, redshirt freshman Tony Kibler, sophomore Steven Jacques, and redshirt freshman Austin Reiter. This does not include two players who are rehabbing from injury in sophomore John McGhin and redshirt freshman Jake Kaufman.
Over the past two years, the current staff as well as the previous staff has made it a priority to stock up talent at the offensive line position. The last two recruiting classes have brought in a total of nine offensive linemen. The most recent recruiting class is arguably the most talented offensive line class USF has ever signed. Guys such as Max Lang, Darrell Williams, Thor Jozwiak, Brynjar Gudmundsson, and Boo Simon bring size, talent and athleticism to the table. While it is very rare for true freshmen offensive linemen to see the field, their bodies and talent will increase competition and overall depth. It lays a solid foundation for the future.
Overall, this past season could definitely be seen as a step in the right direction. The offensive line in just one season improved quite a bit from a technical standpoint. Overall pass protection and aggressiveness in the running game were all improved. This year the offensive line decreased their sacks allowed by ten and the tackles for loss allowed by twelve. Penalties across the board were down and the players adjusted very well to the new blocking schemes. With one full year in the system, improvement is bound to occur and with more talent than ever at the position the future is bright.