Brian Thomas' departure from the Texas Tech program, and Matt Wilson's season-ending injury have thinned the ranks of the offensive line, but they certainly have not clarified the rotation for 2012. If anything, this situation may be even more turbid than it was before.
Of the two losses', Thomas' hurts more.
Now before the knee injury, Wilson was listed as Terry McDaniel's backup at right tackle. But it is doubtful whether the redshirt freshman would actually have been in the rotation. At six-foot-six and only 270 pounds, Wilson was long on length but very short on heft. One suspects that if McDaniel suffered an injury, Le'Raven Clark would have moved out to replace him rather Wilson. Nevertheless, it is never good to lose a potential competitor in the offensive line, and Wilson would have been that.
Brian Thomas was a very different story. The transfer from Texas A&M was a talented, and more important, experienced player who bulked very large in the plans for Texas Tech's offensive line.
Before Thomas' departure, offensive coordinator Neal Brown stated, "Based on his film and his performance from last season I think he's got a chance to compete and get in that starting five."
In losing Brian Thomas the Red Raiders lost not only a player who would have been in the rotation, but one who very well may have started. His unexpected absence creates a ripple effect on the line, but not exactly a tsunami. And that is because there is very good depth in the offensive line's interior.
Prior to Thomas leaving, here is how Brown summed up the situation.
"One of the biggest competitions we're gonna have in camp is for that left guard spot. You've got Brian Thomas coming in, but you've also got Beau Carpenter and Alfredo Morales that have more experience in this offense. Brian's got more experience playing Big 12 football games, but Beau Carpenter and Alfredo Morales have more experience in this offense, and I think that's gonna be one of the most highly contested positions. One of them will eventually have to flip over and be the backup right guard or compete for that right guard spot."
With Thomas gone, the situation has changed markedly, but still looks quite good. As Brown stated, one of those left guards did indeed flip to the right side, and it was Alfredo Morales who did the flipping. He is now battling with Le'Raven Clark for starting honors at that position.
But what about depth at left guard with only Beau Carpenter remaining? Fortunately, big James Polk has stepped in to fill the breach.
At six-foot-six and 330 pounds, the sophomore from Alief is as massive as any player on the Tech roster. Indeed, he is the same size as left tackle LaAdrian Waddle, but looks even larger. Polk has always battled conditioning problems, but appears to be in better shape now than before. At any rate, he should be more than an adequate substitute for Carpenter.
Despite struggling mightily in the spring while playing tackle, the aforementioned Le'Raven Clark is still very much a favorite of Tech's coaches.
"Le'Raven is a guy I'm excited to see," Brown declares. "He's really grown. I mean, he was 240 pounds when we recruited him. He's about 305 now. And he's athletic and he's exactly what we're looking for when we're recruitin' o-linemen."
In other words, Clark is a prototype. But he's a very inexperienced prototype. Alfredo Morales, who played some as a true freshman, and is a talented player in his own right, will push Clark very hard indeed.
The center position, which was arguably a question mark entering fall camp, is now turning into a source of strength. The starter is senior Deveric Gallington, and Brown has always been confident in him.
"Deveric Gallington will be our starting center and I feel very comfortable with him. He's played a lot of football here. He's progressing with his snaps. He had a good three or four scrimmages that we had in the spring; I don't think he had any bad snaps. That was a good sign," Brown asserts.
"He's got game experience at center. He started the Iowa State game and played all but one play of the Oklahoma game, so he's been there and done that in big games. He knows the offense. He's a very smart football player. He works hard away from here so he'll be able to handle identifying the fronts and identifying things like that as far as the center goes. "
But as good as Gallington may be, the competition between him and Tony Morales is very real. Speaking of Morales' play late in the spring, Brown states "he came on, particularly the last five practices of the spring, I was excited about his development and I'm excited to see how he's gonna continue that development over the summer."
And in a recent post-practice statement Brown upped the ante, stating that Morales is pushing Gallington very hard for the starting role. Were Morales to unseat Gallington, it would be a case of a freshman ousting a senior.
Left tackle is the most stable position on the line. LaAdrian Waddle is the starter and Rashad Fortenberry backs him up. There may be some uncertainty about Fortenberry's ability to fill in for Waddle, but he will be given every opportunity to do so in the event Waddle is unable to go for some reason.
That is where Texas Tech's offensive line stands at the moment. Talent and experience are quite abundant in the two-deep, but with the departure of Brian Thomas and Matt Wilson, the Red Raiders can ill afford any further injuries, especially at tackle.