Countdown 2007: Offensive Line

Phil Steele ranked this offensive line No. 1 in the country, and most of the other preseason projections have them in their top-5. Aggie Websider's Chip Winfrey takes a look at this year's men in the trenches, which make up one of the best units on this year's squad.

If any unit on Texas A&M's 2007 squad comes into this season with justifiable expectations of greatness, it would the Aggie offensive line. This senior-laden group boasts, among other accomplishments, two 1st Team All Big XII selections, a preseason All American center—who's also on the Rimington and Lombardi Award watch lists—and a group who led the way for the 8th ranked rushing offense in the nation last year, while leading the Big XII in time of possession and 3rd-down conversion percentage. Place the Aggies' rushing squad of Alexander, Lane, and Goodson behind this impressive unit and things start to get just downright scary.

"I've never had a line this experienced," Goodson said. "In high school I never had a line like that but now you get here and the holes are massive."

Offensive coaches live for an opportunity to field an offensive line that has played together, gelled together, succeeded together. This year's offensive line is the most experienced group the Ags have fielded in many, many years.

After missing much of last season due to injury, junior Yemi Babalola will return for the Aggies at the quick tackle position, Babalola was recognized as an Honorable Mention All Big XII selection by the Associated Press despite only making four starts due to injury. If Babalola's injury last season can be said to have had a silver lining, it would be the increased playing time that resulted for Yemi's backup, Travis Schneider, who surprised everyone with how well he stepped into that role last fall. As a result, the Aggies head into 2007 with two very talented, very experienced junior tackles.

1st Team All Big XII honoree Kirk Elder is back at the quick guard position, where he started the last 35 straight games. Elder was a huge part of the A&M ground game that rushed for over 397 yards per game last season, and allowed the Aggies to control the ball for over 33 minutes per contest. Backing up Elder will be 6-fot-6, 325lb sohopmore Lee Grimes.

No name on the offensive line is more recognizable than Cody Wallace. Another 1st Team All Big XII selection, Wallace has made numerous preseason award watch-lists--including the Playboy Preseason All-American list. Wallace will provide invaluable leadership at the position where he's made 24 straight starts. Kevin Matthews, a sophomore who saw action in four games last fall, will see increased playing time this fall at center, as well.

A real battle is brewing at the strong guard slot, as senior Chris Yoder and impressive sophomore Michael Shumard push each other for playing time. Another sophomore drawing positive attention from coaches and teammates is 6-foot-6, 305lb Robbie Frost, who will backup fellow man-mountain Corey Clark at the strong tackle position.

With a junior and four fifth-year seniors, this offensive line brings to the table the kind of experience and chemistry coaches literally dream of. Head Coach Dennis Franchione is excited about not only their experience as it relates to having "been there" and "done that," but also the opportunity it offers him and the offensive coaches to continue to grow and expand this offense's repertoire. "Kirk, Clark, Wallace, Yoder, all this offense a year or two," Franchione said, "they know how to make adjustments to it. We've been able to install more in four days since [the start of fall workouts] because of the carryover and familiarity they have with what they're doing."

Offensive coordinator Les Koenning relishes the experience of the five guys up front as a means of continuing the development of Stephen McGee and the Aggie passing game, as McGee enter his second full season as a starter.

"You've got veteran people up front, Elder, Yoder, Clark, Cody, all those guys have been playing now for three or four years," Koenning said. "When you look up front, I see them getting better and better. It's going to help us get to some of those second progressions in the passing game and allow us to hold on to the football a little longer. We've gotten better each year and I think a large part of that has been the maturity of this offensive line."

Aggie fans should expect to see plenty of playing time for all those sophomore backups across the offensive line as well, since every minute of "p.t." for those guys translates into valuable experience for next year's starters.

It's natural to assume that with the graduation of so many seniors after this season, the O-line might be a serious rebuilding project next fall, but Franchione doesn't necessarily think so.

"It's easy to sit here and say you lose four seniors so you're going to have a drop off next year," Franchione said, "but I don't know if we'll have a dropoff next year. Shumard, Yemi, Frost, Matthews, etc., [have been here] for a while now. It's comfortable to know we've got those guys. You don't look forward to losing those seniors but it's comforting to know you've got those guys."

The 2008 offensive line, however, is a concern for next season, not now. What is certain as the Aggies head into this 2007 campaign is that Texas A&M will field one of the best offensive lines in the country. And it's an offensive line that is hoping to clear the way not only for Jorvorskie Lane and Mike Goodson, but for a South Division title, as well.

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