Offensive Line 'Wide Open'

The offensive line battle may be "wide open," per Texas coach Charlie Strong, but new OL coach Joe Wickline has had a head start in getting to know his personnel.

When Joe Wickline walked in to see his Texas offensive line for the first time, he no doubt saw a number of familiar faces.

Out of the 12 scholarship linemen that the Longhorns have in spring camp, Wickline recruited eight and offered seven, almost all of which* came during Wickline's time at Oklahoma State.

"It did (help)," said Texas head coach Charlie Strong. "When we got here and he met with the offensive line, they were all laughing at him, teasing him because they said 'oh, you tried to get us to come to Oklahoma State and now you've come to the real school.'

"Joe had a great relationship with those players," Strong said.

What was once Wickline's loss is now his gain. While at Oklahoma State, he offered Kennedy Estelle, Kent Perkins, Rami Hammad, Darius James, Curtis Riser and Jake Raulerson, while he also recruited Camrhon Hughes. So many of those players will be essential building blocks for Wickline's offensive line at Texas, not just this year, but in the years to come. In fact, three of those players — Estelle, Perkins and Hammad — were working with the first team during the first day of spring practice.

That should give Wickline a bit of a head start with a position group that Strong referred to as "wide open" after the first practice.

"I think Coach Wickline is going to do a great job of just putting that all together," Strong said.

While last year's offensive line was among college football's most experienced heading in, several of those players are now gone. Multi-year starting guys like Trey Hopkins, Mason Walters and Donald Hawkins have finished up their Texas careers, while Josh Cochran, who began the year as the starter at right tackle, has called it quits after recurring shoulder issues.

In fact, a slimmed-down Cochran was on the field Tuesday, trying to help young tackles like Estelle and James — playing the backup left tackle spot — get some of the minutiae down that goes into making an effective lineman at this level.

That leaves just Espinosa as a holdover from the group that started off last season, and Strong said the center, heading into his fourth year as a starter, was one of the offense's biggest leaders.

"He's the anchor on the offensive line," Strong said. "He can make the right calls for us."

But the line is more experienced than a simple search on number of starts would indicate. Desmond Harrison likely would have started last season if not for the academic holdover from taking a class at BYU, and later, some nagging injuries. In fact, he went through stretches on Tuesday, but didn't participate in drills, with Strong confirming afterward that he was "a little banged up." But the previous staff thought Harrison was a potential first-round NFL Draft pick, and it's hard to envision a scenario in which he wouldn't fight for the starting left tackle spot vacated by Hawkins.

In Harrison's place, Estelle spent practice working on the left, and he started eight games at right tackle in place of the then-injured Cochran. Sedrick Flowers played in all 13 games as a reserve last year — often rotating through when Walters's knee was acting up — and he even started a game. Perkins, one of the country's top tackles when Texas signed him in 2013, started a game at right tackle a year ago as a true freshman.

So while there isn't a ton of starting experience, the only Longhorn with Tuesday's first team who hasn't started a game is Rami Hammad, with Hammad redshirting a year ago. He figures to fight for his starting spot with James over the course of the spring, and the battle could spill over into the summer.

Regardless of how that plays out, Wickline will be in an advanced position to his other colleagues on the Texas staff: he'll be able to roll out a position group largely made up of players that he recruited.

* Freshman Alex Anderson was also recruited and offered by Wickline while at Texas, as a signee in the 2014 class.

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