|55||Jamie Byrum||6-4||277||R-Jr.||Grove City, OH|
|58||Jason Tant||6-3||270||R-So.||Pegram, TN|
|61||Duncan Cave||6-1||284||R-Sr.||Greeneville, TN|
|67||Greg Robson||6-4||286||R-Fr.||Schaumburg, IL|
|72||Jim May||6-4||303||R-Jr.||Lilburn, GA|
|79||Brent Peacher||6-5||312||R-Jr.||Lexington, KY|
|60||Pat Green||6-7||335||R-Sr.||Emmaus, PA|
|62||Ryan King||6-7||290||Fr.||Cincinnati, OH|
|63||Nigel Seaman||6-5||305||Fr.||Ft. Lauderdale, FL|
|65||Jordan Hill||6-7||289||R-Jr.||Odessa, TX|
|70||Kenan Arkan||6-7||278||R-Fr.||McMurray, PA|
|71||Justin Geisinger||6-4||304||R-Fr.||Pittsburg, PA|
|74||Jordan Pettit||6-4||284||R-So.||Olive Branch, MS|
|45||Dustin Dunning||6-5||210||Fr.||Hoover, AL|
|81||Nick Getter||6-4||243||R-So.||Round Rock, TX|
|83||Zeke Brandon||6-2||230||So.||Copperas Cove, TX|
|84||Tom Simone||6-5||236||R-Jr.||Pittsburgh, PA|
|87||Curtis Brancheau||6-4||234||R-Fr.||Greenville, TX|
|94||Dan Murphy*||6-3||212||So.||Shaker Heights, OH|
- 18 scholarship players (13 excluding TE's)
- 2 Centers
- 4 Guards
- 7 Tackles
- 5 scholarship TE's
- 7 upperclassmen
- 11 underclassmen
- 3 returning starters
- 5 of 13 linemen (excluding TE's) weigh over 300 pounds
Communication and cohesiveness of an offensive line usually starts at center, and that is where I will start. Jamie Byrum is definitely undersized. He enrolled at VU weighing around 235, and that figure was accurate. Needless to say, at that size he was a long way from becoming a contributor in the SEC, much less a starter. Though he came in undersized, he did display some quality attributes. Quick feet, good technique, and a high football IQ were the reasons the coaches instantly liked his play. He has been able to retain these attributes, while steadily gaining weight and learning the offense. At the same time he has become a leader on the offensive line after starting as a redshirt sophomore. Byrum is tremendous at recognizing defenses and blitzes. He is equally as good at communication the proper pass protections to the rest of the OL. Unfortunately, he has not shown an ability to sustain drive blocks, which is vital to the running game. Byrum is very dedicated to improving in the weightroom, and he will probably play at around 280 to 285 this season. He should be better, but will still not likely be blowing big SEC DT's off the ball. The only listed depth at center comes from redshirt sophomore Jason Tant. Though Tant is similarly sized to Byrum, he is a much different player. Though he will probably play at less than 280, Tant is a bull. He is one of Strength and Conditioning Coach Todd Suttles' favorites. He works very hard, and is very strong for his size. Tant is probably the better drive blocker of the two, but Byrum has proven that he is a quality SEC lineman. Tant and Byrum are a nice one-two, but after them depth would need to come from a converted guard. I am guessing that would be Greg Robson.
On either side of Byrum we return a starter and need to replace one. Returning starter Jim May is probably the lines best at opening up holes. He has the size to move defensive linemen down the field, and throughout 2000, when running on the inside, we had the most success on May's side. He looks to have this position sewn up. The guard spot vacated by Mike Saltsman looks to be Duncan Cave's to lose. Cave, one of the strongest players in the nation, has been losing weight over the summer, as the coaches wanted to see him with additional mobility this fall. On the depth chart, Cave is listed as having dropped around sixteen pounds. Cave has the strength to succeed, and he has seen some game action. To get an understanding of Cave's strength, last year he was able to bench press 225 pounds for 51 repetitions, which at the time was only 2 repetitions away from the NFL combine record. He is also able to squat in excess of 1,000 pounds. Otherwise, depth at this position is shallow, as only Brent Peacher and Greg Robson work at second on the depth chart. Robson showed some promise during his redshirt season, but he has yet to see any game action. Peacher is the biggest of VU's guards. However, he has yet to be in a position to compete for playing time. If either May or Cave are injured, Jason Tant could potentially slide over, solidifying the position, but compromising the already thin situation at Center.
On the very surface the offensive tackle position looks to be in good shape. For instance there is one returning starter in Pat Green, who happens to be the largest and one of the strongest players on the team. He is coming off a breakout season. There are several well-regarded and large players vying for the other tackle position. Numbers and apparent depth aside, there are some real questions as to the tackles' ability to block for our runners. Pat Green is a returning starter, and his junior season was easily his best. Green is the team's largest player at 6-7 335, and he has the strength to match the size. However, while Green excelled in pass protection, he struggled in getting down and using his size as leverage to move defensive linemen. Green must improve upon this deficiency in order for VU to put up respectable rushing yardage. On the opposite side, the task of replacing Brian Gruber is problematic in that all of this depth is inexperienced (5 of 6 reserves are freshmen or sophomores). This spot is most likely to be filled by either redshirt sophomore Jordan Pettit or redshirt freshman Justin Geisinger. They each lack experience, but both have shown flashes of ability. Geisinger easily has the size and strength to be an asset to the running game. As only a redshirt freshman Geisinger is close behind some of the staggering weightlifting numbers being turned in by Duncan Cave. He is very close to eclipsing the 50 repetition mark for 225 pounds. Due to the complexity of pass blocking, it would not be unreasonable to expect Geisinger to be a more proficient run blocker than pass blocker initially. The staff has been very high on him. Jordan Pettit has impressed the staff at times, and could compete for a starting position. Pettit had a reputation for being a nasty run blocker coming out of Olive Branch, Mississippi, and the coaches and fans alike hope that this will translate to the SEC. This may be one of the most fierce battles for a position on the team.
The remaining depth is just as untested as Geisinger and Pettit. Fourth year Junior Jordan Hill showed some promise early in his career, but injuries have slowed his progress. Kenan Arkan made steady improvement during his redshirt freshman year, and could factor into the mix as a backup to Pat Green. The remaining depth comes from heralded recruit Nigel Seaman and incoming freshman Ralph King. Seaman could be the darkhorse to move up the depth chart. He was heavily pursued out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as VU beat out several national powers for his services. Contributing as a true freshman in the SEC is difficult enough, but it is even more rare that a true freshman would contribute to the offensive line. Nevertheless, uncertainty at tackle could punch his ticket for early playing time. King will almost certainly spend 2001 using his redshirt option.
Run blocking from the TE spot might take a step back due to lack of size and experience at the position. Tom Simone improved his blocking skill in 2000, but will still need to improve his physicality to be effective. Zeke Brandon has shown an ability to open holes during scrimmages, and he might be the best option for double TE sets. Nick Getter and Curtis Brancheau have looked like better threats in the passing game, than in the running game. Similarly, incoming freshman Dustin Dunning's strength appears to be in pass catching. He currently lacks the size to be an asset to the running game.
The offensive line will have some retooling to do replacing starting tackle Brian Gruber, starting guard Mike Saltsman, and starting tight end Elliot Carson. In every case these stalwarts of VU's line the last few years will be replaced by a generally smaller and more inexperienced player. This could be a major cause of concern for 2000's worst SEC rushing offense. Losing that much experience and some size, can there possibly be any hope for the running game this year?
It is hard for me to imagine a scenario where this group will be able to consistently physically beat quality SEC defensive lines. While Green, Cave, Geisinger, and May certainly posses enough strength to match All-SEC linemen, they have not shown the ability to leverage that strength into opening holes and moving defenses off the line of scrimmage. VU fans can hope that adding Cave and potentially Geisinger to the line might increase its physicality. There is also the potential of new Offensive Line Coach Steve Lavaroni getting more out of our run blocking (although I thought Mike Deal was an extremely effective coach). Rationally, it looks like VU's offensive line will need to rely on other methods to open running lanes, rather than straight-ahead, drive blocking. For run blocking, it appears that depth and experience are potential weaknesses.
A lack of overall size on the offensive line can be masked by a good scheme and technique in pass protection, it cannot be masked in straight ahead run blocking. VU is small by SEC standards at both offensive line and running back. For this reason the running game will continue the trend of being secondary to the pass game. Essentially, VU will rely upon the pass to set up the run.
The staff will try to take away some physical disadvantages for the line, while simultaneously taking advantage of the speed brought to the field by Ray Perkins. VU's rushing attack was most effective between the 20 yard lines in spread formations for the majority of 2000. It was also most effective with Ray Perkins on the field. Expect more of the same in 2001. Spreading the field will play to the strengths of the passing game, offensive line, and running backs. It also takes advantage of the staffs' preference for mobile, but lighter, interior linemen. The down side is that this strategy could further complicate a situation that has been very difficult for the VU offense the last two seasons, which is third and short yardage. The running game has been unable to convert these circumstances into first downs on a consistent basis, which has led to stalled drives and field goals where touchdowns should be almost automatic. These situations could call for different personnel groupings on the offensive line and/or the use of a second back (FB or RB). Regardless, this type of offensive philosophy makes it very difficult to "turn on" the physicality when it is needed.
Finally, injuries could wreak havoc on the running game, due to lack of depth and experience on the offensive line. Injuries to starters on the interior line could be disastrous. Depth at running back appears to be fair, though an injury to Perkins would still be a serious blow to the rushing attack. Barring a rash of injuries, simply having Perkins take the majority of the snaps should slightly improve the running game. It really could not get much worse.
- VU's running game will average over 100 yards per game (110 to 115 yards per game) with most of the improvement coming in the form of increased runs of 20 yards or more
- Yards per carry increase from 3.1 to around 3.5 with a more significant increased masked by more sacks allowed
- VU's running game will remain in the bottom quarter of the SEC in yards per game
- Rushing touchdowns increase along with overall touchdowns, rising from 8 to 12
- A FB is featured in more third and short situations
- Rodney Williams regains form to bounce back from a dismal junior season as a nice complimentary player to Ray Perkins
- The running game will once again be effective against non-conference opposition, but struggle against the more physical defenses of the SEC