Post-Spring Outlook: Offensive Line

Heading into 2012, the Texas offensive line created a good news, bad news scenario for Longhorn fans.

On one hand, the line returned four players who started at least seven games for the Longhorns in 2011. On the other, that line was one of the Big 12's worst at times, finishing second-worst in sack yardage allowed and was only a middle-of-the-road conference team in yards per carry.

The latter performance only became more glaring when Texas lost its top three running backs, and the offense sputtered the rest of the way.

Still, there were plenty of reasons for optimism heading into the spring. For one thing, the Longhorns landed arguably the country's top junior college offensive tackle in Donald Hawkins. The massive (6-5 320) Hawkins not only slid immediately into the toughest job on the offensive line, left tackle, but his moving there led to a reshuffling of positions that moved several players to positions where they were better fits.

Hawkins gave as good as he got all spring, a plus for any player matching up with five-star defensive ends on a play-by-play basis. And his performance allowed true sophomore Josh Cochran to move across the line to right tackle, relieving some pressure on a still-developing player.

Cochran started seven games last year, starting over Tray Allen in seven of the final eight contests at left tackle. That's a pressure-cooker for anybody, much less a true freshman less than a year removed from his senior prom. And Cochran performed admirably. Still, while Cochran could certainly project to left tackle eventually, it has to be seen as a positive that Hawkins allowed him to move off the blind side.

Cochran's move then pushed Trey Hopkins to guard, a perfect spot for the mobile and intelligent junior. Hopkins has been a mainstay on the line each of the past two seasons, and he's a more natural fit at guard, where he could become a pro prospect.

Mason Walters was one of the team's top couple linemen in 2011, and he picked up where he left off in the spring. Walters is powerful at the point of attack, was mobile enough to play tackle at one point and probably enters 2012 as a possible All-Big 12 candidate.

Which position he competes at has quite a bit to do with another returning starter, sophomore Dominic Espinosa. Espinosa had his moments in 2011, starting every game at center. But this spring, he was considered arguably the weakest point of the line, so much so that both Walters and Garrett Porter got run at the position. But the Longhorns would probably be best served by Espinosa continuing to develop. The difficult thing is that Espinosa has been limited by injuries the past few offseasons, and therefore lingers a behind the other players in terms of strength. Staying healthy all summer and putting in a ton of time in the weight room would be a great start.

When Walters moved inside to center, it moved talented redshirt freshman Sedrick Flowers into the starting lineup. Flowers possesses uncommon quickness and athleticism for the position, and even with how good the Longhorns are at the position, he'll be tough to keep off the field. And the Longhorns have Luke Poehlmann and Paden Kelley, two tackles with plenty of playing time, as backups for the front line there.

All of it leads to the deepest offensive line Texas has had in several years, and one that will only get better: none of the five projected starters (or the top six, if you count Flowers) are seniors). And despite last year's performance at times, that's all good news.

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