Now, About That Offensive Line

For most of this 10-2 season, head coach <B>Mack Brown </B>has deflected criticism aimed at a Longhorn offensive line that gave up more sacks (34) than any during Brown&#146;s tenure and fronted a rushing attack that ranked just No. 71 nationally (137.4 ypg). The problem, Brown said on more than one occasion, was too complicated to explain. On Thursday, Brown talked at length with sports reporters about his offensive line.

There is no underestimating the fact that this year’s O-line consisted of three new starters, Brown said.

"Last year’s offensive line was the best we’ve had since our first year (1998)," Brown said. "The first year we had all four seniors. They’d been together a long time, and that makes a huge difference -- more at that position than at any other position on the field."

This season, however, the paltry rushing average neared the low-water mark for futility set by the 1999 squad whose 135.1 ypg stands as the fourth-worst in school history. (The 1999 team, however, averaged 275.4 passing ypg, second-best in school history.) RB Cedric Benson (who never "officially" had turf toe) saw his yard-per-carry average dip from 4.7 (2001) to 4.3. The sophomore surpassed the 100-yard mark but three times all season.

Coaches attempted to jump-start the running game (that showed signs of life against North Carolina, Houston, Iowa State and at key moments against Kansas State) by spreading the offensive splits and by turning to a quick-hit passing attack.

Ideally, Brown said, the offensive line will eventually consist of fifth-year seniors. Texas coaches have recruited to the point where freshmen are no longer thrown into the fray out of sheer necessity but play only if they are just too good to keep on the bench (e.g. DT Rodrique Wright). It’s that type of experience (or lack thereof) that kept the line from firing on all cylinders throughout the season, Brown believes. Even so, coaches are taking a hard look at underclassmen lineman.

"We’ve got to look at all of the young ones and see which are the best ones who can step up and start," Brown said. "That group will play together for five years, and that’s exciting. Obviously, I won’t be here if we wait five years to have a good offensive line. That’d be somebody else coaching those guys."

Added Brown, "With the numbers (scholarship limits) like they are in college football, it’s hard to redshirt like we used to. This is the first year that we’ve been able to redshirt the offensive linemen. These kids will have a chance to play five years. All the other guys played only four."

Sophomore C Jason Glynn was often a target of criticism this season.

"We played a real young center," Brown said. "We need to get Jason stronger. He got overpowered some this year."

An obvious bright spot was senior OT/OG Derrick Dockery, named this week to the Associated Press All-American first-team. Dockery did not give up a single sack all season (according to the coaches) and shuffled between tackle and guard as injuries began to mount.

Dockery is exceptionally quick for a guy his size (6-6, 345), and that’s what has so many NFL scouts salivating. He is expected to be a high draft choice next April, as were his predecessors Mike Williams and Leonard Davis.

"A thing that helps him as a draftable player is that he can play guard or tackle at either side, and very few guys can do that," Brown said. "We have moved him so much because of injuries. He’s proven that for us this year."

Dockery, though, is hardly a vocal member of the huddle and allows his actions to speak louder on the field.

"He’s a nice young guy, but never changes emotions at all," Brown said. "He never says anything. That’s just the way he is, and he’s that way every day. He’s got a good smile. He’s got a good family. We played better on offense after mid-season, and he started getting more attention. He and (OT) Robbie Doane have both been more of the solid guys in that offensive line. Tillman Holloway has been the other guy that has played really well. Those are the guys with the most experience."

Even with Dockery’s (and Doane's) absence, next year’s line should be considerably improved with a healthy Jonathan Scott and Tillman Holloway and with a potential impact-player like redshirt freshman Justin Blalock. The 6-4, 340-pound Blalock was a first-team USA Today All-American at offensive guard while a senior at Plano East. Blalock, who turns 19 Friday, was a Class 5A pick in both football and track-and-field.

"We’ll be more athletic across board than any offensive line that we’ve had because we continue to upgrade," Brown said. "We may not have the one dominant player like we’ve had but we’re going to have a lot of really good athletes on the offensive line. And that will give us a chance to do some more things."

Hopefully, like run the ball.

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