SEC Bloggers: 5 Thoughts on OL
Georgia's Ben Jones
CFN's SEC Bloggers put the conference's offensive linemen under the microscope
Billy Gomila: On who are the SEC's best returning offensive linemen?
The line of scrimmage has always been the starting point for the SEC's dominance, as evident by the conference's six offensive linemen chosen in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft. This year, the glut of the returning talent is along offensive interiors.
Some of the SEC's top offensive line returnees are guards Barrett Jones of Alabama, Larry Warford of Kentucky and Josh Dworaczyk of LSU.
There's also a talented group of veteran centers like Ben Jones of Georgia, P.J. Lonergan of LSU, William Vlachos of Alabama and T.J. Johnson of South Carolina.
The tackle position, however, is another story. On the left side of the line more than half of the SEC will be breaking in new players. Cordy Glenn of Georgia is probably the top player coming back, and Georgia's going to need him to shine (See more from Russ below).
On the right side, big-time road-graders like LSU's Alex Hurst, Bama's D.J. Fluker and Ole Miss' Bobbie Massie are back – all of whom can dominate a game when on form.
Barrett Sallee: On who will be the next breakout OL?
Playing offensive line is far more about communication than most fans realize. With that in mind, one of the biggest factors in determining who will be the next star offensive lineman is looking at the group of people mentoring younger players. For that reason, the next breakout offense lineman in the SEC is LSU tackle Chris Faulk.
Faulk will step in at left tackle for the recently-departed Joe Barksdale, and will do so on a veteran Tiger offensive line that returns four starters, not to mention a senior quarterback entering his third year as a starter (you would think). All of which should make Faulk's transition into the starting lineup as smooth as it possibly could be.
Faulk has the core skills/ability to become a star in the SEC, and with the help of a veteran group around him, that will happen sooner rather than later.
Back then to that quarterback… With the ever-erratic Jordan Jefferson taking the snaps in Baton Rouge (at least for now), the offensive line will have to open up running lanes for a talented, multi-faceted yet very inexperienced Tiger rushing attack. But they've done it in the past, and won't miss a beat with Faulk stepping in for Barksdale.
Russ Mitchell: On which team has the most riding on the OL position?
Georgia. The Bulldogs have had considerable talent the past five seasons, as evident by how well they have recruited and the number of players they have launched into the NFL.
And yet Georgia football has failed to live up to expectations in four of those seasons – capped by a disaster of a year in 2010 (6-7). If but one unit is to be singled out for these letdowns, it is the UGA offensive line.
In fact, we'll take it one step further: no single unit in the SEC has underperformed expectations more this past half-decade than has the Georgia offensive line.
Now with arguably the conference's best quarterback in Aaron Murray needing protection and absent a proven go-to wide receiver, this unit is going to be counted on even more in 2011. With the departure of Washaun Ealey, UGA will either rely on a senior with no proven success (Caleb King), or a true freshman with no proven success (Isaiah Crowell; on campus as of last week) – putting even more pressure on this unit. And they must do it all while adjusting to a new position coach (Will Friend), putting even--well, you get the picture.
And what do they have to work with? This offseason the Dawgs lost four year starter and first team All SEC Clint Boling, two year starting tackle Josh Davis, three year starting guard/center Chris Davis, and likely starter-to-be guard Tanner Strickland opted out of his senior year. Then projected starting LT Trinton Sturdivant went down with another knee injury – his 2011, and likely his career, are over. After which it was announced that 6-foot-5, 320-pound projected RT Ben Harmon had left the program.
Cue the crickets...
Even with all that experience, in 2010 the offensive line actually put up worse numbers than it did the prior year: rushing yards per game dropped and sacks allowed increased.
Those statistics were likely effected by an offense tuned more to a freshman passing quarterback, but UGA's offensive line is going to have to do better in 2011 – and do so with less experience throughout the offense and significantly greater distraction. Not only distraction in the form of a new position coach, but if they fail to perform, the fire that will be around their head coach's seat. Just a little added pressure.
Given the injuries and defections to an already suspect line, all of this current offseason hype around Georgia (yes, we know we were out leading the charge in January) is beginning to feel a lot like the last three years… To have any chance at a successful 2011, UGA's OL must play to its maximum ability; as such, Georgia has the most riding on its offensive line.
Brian Harbach: On which SEC school is today's OL U?
Year after year the SEC puts great offensive linemen into the NFL, and it comes from nearly every school. Since 2003, eight SEC schools have had an offensive linemen selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Think about that – one conference, one position, eight different schools with what scouts determined to be the best of the best. Even Vanderbilt produced a first round pick in 2008 at offensive tackle... The O-Line is arguably the SEC's deepest unit year in and year out.
With so many players making it to the next level the past decade, it is difficult to identify a single school as "OL U", so we will go with the recent history as a good starting point. Today, Alabama would have to be considered OL U in the SEC, with four players selected in the first three rounds of the draft since 2009. The Crimson Tide have had two first-rounders, a second-rounder and a third-rounder drafter in the last three drafts.
Other schools have had numbers close to Alabama's – Florida, for example, had the same number of players drafted during that time span (including the Pouncey brothers, both taken in the draft's first round) – but combined, they were not as early as the Alabama players.
Moreover, the future looks bright for the Tide at the position, as once again they will put one of the best lines in the country out on the field this fall. Throw in a player or two from the 2010 & 2011 recruiting classes that have serious potential, and the number of early draft picks from Alabama may increase.
Gabe Harris: On who will be the conference's next first round NFL offensive lineman?
First, there may not be an SEC offensive lineman taken in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Only two were taken in 2011, and the first went at pick #25 as the Seattle Seahawks surprised many by taking Alabama OG James Carpenter – including Carpenter's own coach, Nick Saban.
If one is taken in the first round, it will again be an Alabama player. Centers have started to creep into the first round the last couple of years, though it could just be a ‘Pouncey' thing. William Vlachos, a senior-to-be, is going to lead the charge for the most physical and dedicated running game in the SEC, and that is going to win him a lot of favor with the NFL. The SEC has seven centers on the Rimington Trophy watch list, so it's going to be a deep and talented position.
Bama junior LT Barrett Jones is my early pick for Offensive Lineman of the Year, though the transition from OG to OT could be more problematic than many are envisioning. If he has another big year, he'll make the jump early – especially if Trent Richardson declares early too.
If there's an SEC OL first-rounder, then Barrett Jones will be it. But my most confident prediction will be that no SEC offensive lineman gets a first round call in 2012.
Please follow Russ Mitchell on Twitter @RussMitchellCFB, Brian Harbach @harbabd and Barrett Sallee @barrettsallee.
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