2014 Spring Breakdown: Offensive Line

Texas Tech wrapped its first season under coach Kliff Kingsbury with a Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State, signed a promising 2014 recruiting class and spring ball has just commenced. RaiderPower.com senior writer Joe Yeager breaks down the roster and highlights position battles to watch at offensive line.

Probable Starters
Le'Raven Clark | 6-foot-5, 320 | Junior | Rockdale, Texas
Baylen Brown | 6-foot-4, 305 | Sophomore | San Antonio, Texas
Jared Kaster | 6-foot-3, 275 | Junior | Altair, Texas
Alfredo Morales | 6-foot-3, 320 | Junior | Arlington, Texas
Rashad Fortenberry | 6-foot-5, 285 | Senior | Tylertown, Mississippi

Tony Morales | 6-foot-3, 315 | Junior | Arlington, Texas
Josh Outlaw | 6-foot-3, 290 | Freshman | Lithonia, Georgia
James Polk | 6-foot-6, 335 | Senior | Houston, Texas
Matt Wilson | 6-foot-6, 280 | Junior | Coldspring, Texas
Cody Hayes | 6-foot-5, 275 | Freshman | Fort Worth, Texas
Trey Keenan | 6-foot-6, 270 | Sophomore | Argyle, Texas
Poet Thomas | 6-foot-5, 335 | Freshman |Beverly Hills, Michigan

Most Intriguing Battle: Will any of the eagerly anticipated redshirt freshmen break into the regular rotation?

Position Power Rating: 89

Despite losing possibly the team's best
offensive lineman, guard Beau Carpenter, to team rules violations, Texas Tech's offensive line should be considerably better than a year ago. All five probable starters have extensive starting experience; left tackle Le'Raven Clark was tabbed All Big 12 in 2013, and sophomore guard Baylen Brown looks like a real star in the making. Furthermore, big James Polk, presumably the number six man in the rotation, also has starting experience at both guard positions. Thus, offensive line coach Lee Hays has an enviable base upon which to build.

But the presence of this solid six-man group doesn't mean there are no issues for the line. There are.

To begin with, the six players in that group have plenty of room to improve. Clark, despite pulling down much postseason hardware, had his fair share of problems with speed rushers such as Arizona State's Carl Bradford and Oklahoma's Eric Striker. Clark needs to deliver a better punch at the snap and get into his set more quickly.

Right tackle Rashad Fortenberry had problems similar to Clark's, and in general, wasn't terribly consistent, although he did have a better season than most people expected.

Center Jared Kaster is the sort of technician you like to have at the center position. But at 275 pounds he is a bit light in the britches for a Big 12 offensive lineman, and sometimes had trouble with bigger defensive tackles. As a consequence, Kaster committed far too many infractions, most of which were holding violations. If, however, Kaster has packed on some extra muscle, he could be one of the better centers in the conference.

Another concern is depth. Outside of Polk, who could certainly crack the starting lineup himself, there are simply no proven players. Tackle Matt Wilson, and Trey Keenan, who has played both guard and tackle, have played sparingly. But by the standards of Tech's young o-line backups, the junior and the sophomore are a couple of gray-beards. In point of fact, Hays really needs both Wilson and Keenan to be rotation guys.

Tony Morales, a highly touted recruit seemingly eons ago, has been an injury waiting to happen for his entire time on the South Plains. If he can manage to stay healthy, he should be a more than capable backup for Kaster at center. But given Morales' history, that "if" is the size of the Washington Monument. Should Morales be unable to go, Baylen Brown will serve both as a potential starting guard and as Kaster's prime backup.

Hays has three more wildcards up his sleeve in redshirt freshmen Cody Hayes, Poet Thomas and Josh Outlaw. The latter, who has already demonstrated a great work ethic and an ability to learn the schemes quickly, is probably most ready to contribute. He should be slated for a tackle posting. Hayes was dominant at the high school level far beyond his recruiting notoriety, but whether he's yet physically ready for offensive line play at the Big 12 level is an open question.

Much of the success of Tech's line will depend upon whether Hays can find three players beyond the first six to blend into the rotation. If Tony Morales is healthy, Hays will only need two. And that should be doable.

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