Year-End Evaluation: Offensive Line

2013 was a rough season overall for a young Texas Tech offensive line. There is reason for hope as four starters are expected to return next season and an injection of talent, including from the junior college ranks, is expected to help.

The preseason concerns about Texas Tech's offensive line proved to be well founded. Offensive line coach Lee Hays took a bunch of peach fuzz-adorned youngsters into Big 12 trench warfare, and predictably, those lads exit this season sporting an assortment of welts, bruises and scars. But on the bright side, those callow youngsters will be battle-tested veterans in 2014.

Just how young was the Red Raider offensive line? Well, the only senior to play significant reps was starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry. The only other upperclassmen were part-time starters at guard, Beau Carpenter and James Polk. The rest were freshmen and sophomores, including true freshman Baylen Brown who, because of injuries, was pressed into extensive duty at center. No easy task that.

The offensive statistics tell a tale of woe for this young unit. In rushing yards per carry, Red Raider ball-carriers averaged 3.75 yards per tote, which was No. 96 nationally. In total sacks allowed, Tech's offense gave up 33, which was No. 104. And in sacks per game, Tech's number of 2.75 pegged them at No. 107 in the land.

Clearly, the offensive line isn't entirely to blame for those sorry numbers. Young quarterbacks Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield tended to hold onto the ball way too long, and often exhibited terrible pocket presence, sometimes scrambling directly into the teeth of the rush for a sack. They also failed to recognize blitzes and to check out of doomed plays.

Running backs didn't always pick up blitzes with aplomb, nor did they often run like Heisman candidates, or even All Big 12 possibilities. Likewise, receivers failed to get open, and didn't always adjust to hot routes in blitz situations.

In other words, there's blame enough to spare. Nevertheless, it was glaringly obvious the offensive line had its problems. Run blocking was sporadic. Penalties, particularly by center Jared Kaster, were maddeningly commonplace. And pass protection all across the line was sometimes good, but far too often miserable. Most concerning of all, the line saved its worst for last, giving up an appalling nine sacks and innumerable quarterback pressures to the Texas Longhorns. Frankly, it was hard to descry much progress over the course of the season.

The job facing Coach Hays and his linemen is formidable. All areas need improvement. Technique—pad level, use of hands—was not up to scratch. The line too often got out-muscled as well. This group will require special attention from strength coach Chad Dennis in the off-season and will have to work like dray horses if they hope to be physical enough to handle the Big 12's better defenses next season. But as noted above, this is a very young unit, and it will do nothing but get better.

The Future: Given the fact that every offensive lineman save Rashad Fortenberry returns, and that several promising redshirt freshmen will be thrown into the mix, there will be scant opportunity for newcomers to make a dent immediately. Nevertheless, as of this writing, Texas Tech has loaded up on offensive linemen in the 2014 class, with five pledges in the fold.

The only JUCO transfer is 6-foot-7 310-pound Drew Sarvary from Tallahassee, Florida via Tyler Junior College. And of the five current commits, he may be the one most likely to play quickly, probably at the right tackle spot Fortenberry vacates.

Sarvary is a very good drive blocker who finishes blocks and comes off the line with good explosion. Sooner or later he could help Tech's ground attack.

Commit Robert Castaneda a 6-foot-4 300-pounder from Round Rock is projected as a guard, but played tackle in high school and it's easy to see why. Castaneda is amazingly quick-footed and agile, although he plays with a very good base. If indeed Castaneda winds up playing guard for the Red Raiders, it's easy to foresee him as devastating on trap plays.

The commitment with perhaps the greatest upside as a tackle is Belton's Justin Murphy. At 6-foot-8 and 275 pounds, and with long arms, he has the ideal frame for a pass protecting left tackle. He will certainly redshirt in order to put on weight and gain strength, but Murphy is a name worth remembering.

Guard prospect Mildren Montgomery has the ultimate Oklahoma name (Jack Mildren was an All America quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners in the early seventies), but will be plying his trade in Texas for the Red Raiders. At only 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds Montgomery is undersized at this point, but is explosive, aggressive and tough. If he can pack on the weight—and it has been known to happen to high schoolers once they get to college—Montgomery could be special.

One player who won't need to gain any weight at all is Cibolo Steele guard prospect Deionte Noel. At 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds he's got a Big 12 physique right now. Noel is massive in the upper body and packs a serious wallop upon contact with a defender. Noel is also agile enough to be adept at the cut block. With increased lower-body strength, he will be a hoss.

Noel's status has come into question recently after reports surfaced he was asked by the Tech staff to greyshirt. For now, Noel remains committed to Texas Tech.

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