Even with some proven commodities, the Tech o-line struggled at times last year. One could even argue that offensive line breakdowns led to both quarterbacks getting injured. I've often wondered if someone gets a chip or diverts the path of Sergio Kindle in Austin last season, do Tech fans have any affinity at all for Steven Sheffield?
OL coach Matt Moore played most of last season with a short deck. Injuries, a suspension, and lack of experience contributed to 9 different starting OL combinations in 13 games last season. Hats off to him for his tenacity in trying to find the right combination, which he may have in the final 3 games of the season.The good news is that while yes, there are starters to replace, most of the players vying for playing time have played or started.
The goal this spring for the OL is to find 8 or 9 players that will contribute next season and play at a high level. Ideally, it will be 3 players on the left side, 3 players on the right side and 3 centers, but Tech may not have that luxury due to the change in the pace of the offense.
Coach Tuberville wants the lineman to become more agile and be able to move more swiftly. This is a vast change from the previous coaching staff that preached strength and set weight room records. Coach Moore isn't concerned with the lineman losing a lot of strength with the weight loss. If a player's bench goes down a little bit and he's more agile, he should be able to defend a defensive lineman. He should also be quicker to protect the outside pass rush as well.
Right now, LaAdrian Waddle has benefitted the most from the new coaching staff's training regimen. Waddle is down to 335 from the 360s. Waddle has been praised since he arrived on campus for his natural strength. Another summer in the weight room should put him in the position to start in 2010. Whether it's at RT or RG may depend on everyone else.
Chris Olsen seems to be the man in the lead at center. He's the lone senior of the group. Olsen is also the most versatile of the offensive lineman, playing all over the line last year as the top backup. Coach Tuberville also wants to make sure there is plenty of depth at center, so that the Red Raiders aren't left with a hole up the middle like Oklahoma Sooners last season. The center will make the calls and audible on the line, so Olsen may have found a home in the middle.
Backing up Olsen is junior Justin Keown. Keown started a couple of games last season and was very effective when he was in there. He also has a bit of a mean streak, which is something that will help him in the trenches of the Big XII. Keown is also getting reps at RG, another open position on the OL. His "slight" frame at 6'4''302 makes him a candidate at an interior position.
Also on the right side is Deveric Gallington. The sophomore from North Richland Hills is another one that has dropped a significant amount of weight, down from 350 lbs. Guard is Gallington's natural position and right now, he is getting the most reps with the first team.
The surprise of the line this spring has been true freshman Beau Carpenter. A mid-semester enrollee, Carpenter has started to work in the rotation at right tackle. More than one coach has said that the plan is to redshirt him, but it may be difficult to do so. Carpenter is quick, agile and strong. He's got a lot to learn, but he has a chance to play. The only other true freshmen that I remember playing for Tech on the offensive line recently (besides Waddle) were Louis Vasquez and Rex Richards. That's good company.
The left side of the line is more settled. Terry McDaniel won the LT job after 3 games last season, only to go down midyear with a knee injury. McDaniel is back and is looking strong. Because of the play of Carpenter, coaches have moved Mickey Okafor over to LT to compete with McDaniel. Okafor was a guard in the old system, but his body size indicates he may be more suited at tackle (6'7'' 320). Coach Brown noted that Okafor's biggest obstacle may have been being moved around earlier in his career and not able to concentrate on one position. If Tech can redshirt Carpenter, Okafor may be the backup at both tackle spots. Okafor has also lost 20 or so pounds to help his quickness.
At LG, Lonnie Edwards may have been Tech's most improved lineman last year. Edwards is the best run-blocker of the group and told us that he is really comfortable at his LG position. The left side could be very solid with McDaniel, Edwards and Olsen. Also in the mix and having a good, but quiet spring is Blake Emert, a junior from Garland.
In all, there really is a lot of talent on this offensive line. Edwards, Olsen and Gallington are all four-star recruits. McDaniel is proven and Waddle is raw, but may be the most talented.
Below is how I think the line will shake out coming out of the spring game:
LT: McDaniel , Okafor
LG: Edwards, Emert
C: Olsen, Keown
RG: Gallington, Keown
RT: Waddle, Carpenter*(hoping Carpenter can redshirt)
That combination gives Tech 6 linemen in the 2-deep rotation with at least 1 game started (McDaniel, Okafor, Edwards, Olsen, Keown and Waddle) with the others hungry and looking for playing time. This could all change with work over the summer, but this group is going to be a lot more solid going into the fall.
The best part of this group? Youth. Only 1 senior is listed among the nine above. That bodes well for success in 2011 and beyond as well, where we know the Red Raiders will be breaking in a new QB.