COUNTDOWN 2009: Offensive Line

With fall camp just days away, Aggie Websider begins it's preseason previews today with a look at the Aggie's offensive line. Can the unit step up and lead the way for a star-studded backfield? Chip Winfrey takes a look.

Well, here we are again Aggies. August is right on top of us, and that means it's time to start getting serious about the upcoming 2008 football season, which also means it's time to start taking a closer look at this year's team, unit by unit. It seems like only yesterday we were looking at the position breakdowns for the ‘07 season, all of us brimming with confidence over what a great year it was going to be, and how the Aggies were sure to improve upon their 2006 performance, when they fell just a few points shy of winning the South Division.

Wow... THAT certainly didn't go as planned, did it?

Only a year later, here we are with a new head coach and staff, leading a team that will operate in an entirely different offensive scheme from the option attack the Aggies have run in recent seasons. As is the case in any offensive system, everything begins up front with the big guys manning the trenches. And for the ‘08 Aggie offensive line, the system is not the only thing that's new–most of the starters will be, as well.

Question: What do Yemi Babalola, Corey Clark, Kirk Elder, Cody Wallace, and Chris Yoder have in common? Answer: They are all GONE. As a result, this fall's team has some very major shoes to fill along the offensive front if they are to have a chance to perform up to the level of the 2007 unit, which cleared the way for the Aggie running game to average almost 212 yards per game, good enough to rank 13th in the nation. By the way, did I mention that four of those departed linemen earned All-Big XII honors?

The typical assumption would be that the Aggies will see a drop-off in the offensive line play this fall. Not so, however, says returning offensive tackle Travis Schneider. "We had four great guys leave us last year who played a lot of games for us, and there's no doubt they will be hard to replace. But the guys we have filling those roles will show people they can play. I'm not worried about the offensive line at all."

This year's offensive line will be anchored around 6-foot-4, 297lb junior Kevin Matthews, who drew a lot of attention to himself during spring drills at the center position, and appears more than ready to step into the spot vacated by Cody Wallace, the Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year in the Big XII. Matthews saw action in only five games last fall as a sophomore, but that's no surprise. It's pretty hard to get playing time when you're backing up the best offensive lineman in one of the country's best football conferences. But Matthews has given coaches and his teammates plenty of reason to expect solid play at the center position this season.

Flanking Matthews at the guard positions, fans should expect to see Lee Grimes, a junior who stands 6-foot-6 while tipping the scales at 339 pounds, along with Vincent Williams, a 6-foot-4, 314lb junior who came out of Spring Drills as a likely starter. Grimes saw action in six games for the Aggies in ‘07, with most of his playing time coming in the latter part of the season as he provided solid depth to an already powerful unit. Williams is a former defensive lineman who was moved to the offensive front to take advantage of his powerful, physical play on a unit that would be in need of depth this fall. Williams saw action last year against Baylor and Nebraska, helping the Aggie offense to dominate in the trenches in both contests.

Offensive tackle is a position where the Aggies will have some real experience this fall, if not proven depth. 6-foot-8 Travis Schneider, weighing just under 300 pounds, will return this fall, having started 16 games for the Ags over the past two seasons. Schneider has proven himself to be a quality pass blocker, who has the potential to become one of the best offensive tackles in the Big XII. With a wing-span that nearly matches his height, and very quick feet, Schneider makes it extremely difficult for pass-rushers to beat him to the outside. With the Aggie offense making the transition to the pro-style attack, Schneider's pass blocking will be crucial to the success of that offensive scheme.

Opposite Schneider at offensive tackle will be another name familiar to Aggies, as Michael Shumard will transition from offensive guard, where he gained valuable experience as a starter down the stretch in 2007. At 6-foot-5 and 301 pounds, Shumard is an athletic and impressively strong book-end at the tackle position to complement Schneider. Shumard's move to tackle will be crucial to helping the offensive line protect the QB, on a unit that gave up only 16 sacks in 376 pass attempts last fall.

Despite the loss of so many quality starters from last year's offensive line, it really won't be much of a surprise to those familiar with this team to see this fall's starters play close to the level of the past few seasons. Depth, however, is a serious concern, and in that respect the old saying will hold true: only time will tell.

Junior Robbie Frost will certainly be counted on to provide some quality playing time this season. The 6-foot-6, 300-pounder saw action in seven games for the Ags last fall, and is the most experienced backup on the O-Line. 2007 redshirts Danny Baker and Evan Eike are unproven quantities at this point, but will definitely be needed to step in and step up this fall.

Five true freshmen will join the Aggie squad this season, and the numbers simply dictate that some of them will have to get on the field, the likeliest of which at this point will probably be Leroy Chevalier, a 6-foot-5 336-pounder out of Houston Yates.

Overall, there's no denying the depth on this year's offensive is pretty thin–thin enough, in fact, to be potentially scary. If the unit can manage to stay injury-free, however, this fall's starters have a very legitimate shot at surprising those who expect the offensive line to have a serious drop-off this season.

Certainly, Travis Schneider thinks so: "We're rolling. This offense lets us play more aggressively. We are a better football team."

With so many playmakers on offense, the key for that side of the ball will be the success of the offensive line. Can they benefit from Sherman's first-hand knowledge of teaching offensive linemen, and do it quick enough to lead the way for a star-studded backfield?

We shall see.

Aggie Websider's Grade: C

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