Offensive Line Aiming for Repeat Performance

After turning in one of the best seasons in school history in 2008, Texas Tech's offensive will look quite different this year, with veterans playing at new positions and new faces stepping into starting roles. Anchored by seniors Brandon Carter, Marlon Winn, and Shawn Byrnes, the Red Raider o-line is poised for another great season despite the graduation of standouts Rylan Reed and Louis Vasquez.

Senior offensive lineman Brandon Carter is determined to make his final season at Texas Tech one to remember. Carter, who has already begun racking up awards as a Preseason All-American and Outland Trophy candidate, did not allow any sacks in 2008 and was named a first-team All-American. Despite the accolades, Carter says he's just excited to get on the field and is focused on one goal: winning.

"I just go day by day," Brandon explained. "I practice as hard as I can to try to make our team better. You know, that's really all that this is about is winning as a team out there on the field and trying to get as many wins as we possibly can. It's a huge honor to be seen as one of the best offensive linemen in the country, but I try to keep my nose out of that kind of stuff because all I'm trying to do is help my team win."

Carter, who made the move from the right side of the line to the left, has transitioned easily, something that is a relief to center Shawn Byrnes.

"As a player, is just the same [for me]. He's just to my left now. [Brandon and I] are real comfortable together, with all the practice and games we've had together. I don't think it's a big difference at all."

A big part of the smooth transition can be attributed to Brandon's impeccable technique, which he attributes to a combination of intense practices coupled with unorthodox cross training.

"My technique really is most offensive linemen's technique. You can't lean; you've got to work with your feet really well. Footwork is the key to being a great offensive lineman. If you don't have great feet, you're going to struggle. As long as you can keep your guy in front of you and your back turned towards the quarterback, there's always a distance, and the quarterback's not going to get touched. I try to do that. I try to work on my feet really well. There's a lot of technique that goes into being an offensive lineman, and once you can put them all together, that's when you become a great offensive lineman.

"I do mixed martial arts training and boxing. I think that's helped me out a lot with my hand placement and hand speed. Every once in a while you throw your hands out there and a defensive lineman will knock them down. The difference between a good offensive lineman and a great offensive lineman is how fast they can react and put them back where they need to be. I think with the training I've had, it's helped out a lot. Also, keeping your hands on the inside- if you get your hands on their chest plate where it's supposed to be, no one should be able to beat you."

The three veteran seniors, Carter (left guard), Byrnes (center), and Winn (right tackle) will be joined by sophomore Mickey Okafor at right guard and left tackle Chris Olson, who will be a junior. Terry McDaniel, a redshirt freshman, should also see significant playing time at left tackle.

Byrnes says that despite the new faces, he is confident that his teammates are up for the task at hand.

"When Olsen's in at any position, they're never a drop off. He can play at any position. He's kind of like the new E.J. Whitely. He just does a great job at every position. It's kind of cool to see him be able to respond like that. He switched from the right side to the left side, and now he's playing center. He's got to worry about snapping the ball, reading the defense, calling the fronts, the run game schemes. But he's doing a great job; it's really good to have him there."

Shawn says that the offensive line unit has built a good rapport with Mickey Okafor, who saw limited time on the playing field last season but has been very solid throughout the fall.

"[Mickey and the offensive linemen] have gotten real comfortable with each other over spring and this camp playing next to each other, getting a feel for each other, how we're going to block together with the double teams and whatnot. This camp has really helped us out, getting to know each other and getting a feel for each other on the field."

The new line faces multiple challenges, as they must not only break in new players and adjust to new positions but must also get used to blocking for a new quarterback. As a unit last season, they only allowed 11 sacks on quarterback Graham Harrell, and this year they are intent upon providing the same protection for Taylor Potts.

Brandon Carter explained, "It's difficult because we go against some great opponents. We have some great players in the Big 12 and out of conference players. It's difficult, but as long as you go out there every day and work your hardest, use your own technique and try to make the least amount of mistakes possible, you should come out on top looking alright. That's all I try to do during the games is focus on my own game and focus on my own technique and the game kind of goes my way from there.

"As far as pass protection on the offensive line, I don't really think we notice [the change in quarterback] much. However long he needs, we're going to do our best to give it to him. Last year there were occasions where we had to give Graham 13 seconds, so if Taylor Potts needs that, then we're going to give it to him. It's not much different. Taylor Potts has a great arm. I think he's going to be able to put the ball where it's needed, and he's going to be a playmaker. He's a great leader for our team. It hasn't hindered us at all, and I think that's good for our offensive line as a whole also."

With their season opener against North Dakota only days away, Carter says that the whole team is amped and ready to hit the turf.

"Really it's just exciting. Anyone could be on our schedule, and I'm going to excited to play. I love the game; I just love the competition and everything like that. I've been watching North Dakota, and the more I watch them, the more excited I get. I think it's going to be a great game, and it's just exciting to see an opponent that you're going to be going against… We respect [North Dakota]. We think they're a great team, and no one can look past anybody in football because once you do that, someone will sneak up on you and beat you. We're focused on them, and we're ready to go. We're all excited."

The Red Raider faithful are excited as well, not only to see their beloved team suit up, but also to get a look at the 2009 version of the Texas Tech offensive line.

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