2013 Spring Preview - The Big OL Battles

Posted Mar 16, 2013

How's your unit? The most important position battles this spring. The offensive lines.

2013 Spring Preview

Position Watch - O Lines

- More key 2013 spring offensive line battles

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 1. Alabama
It's not going overboard to suggest that this is the most important overall area in college football to keep an eye on. Alabama's offensive line might have been full of NFL talent, but it didn't dominate for a full regular season and didn't really start to kick it in until it absolutely had to, blasting away on Georgia in the SEC championship and destroying Notre Dame for the national title. Now it's about making all the right pieces fit, and while it's asking a lot to hit another grand slam like last year when the coaching staff moved all-everything left tackle Barrett Jones to center, and while you don't get better by losing the best offensive lineman in the draft - guard Chance Warmack - the pieces are in place to quickly reload.

Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is an almost certain top five pick in next year's draft, while guard Anthony Steen should be one of the nation's biggest blasters for the ground game. After that come the question marks, starting at center where sophomore Ryan Kelly has to do the near-impossible and take over for Jones. He's not as big, and he can't take on the same leadership role, but he's a talent. Arie Kouandjio is trying to come back healthy to step in at one of the guard spots, but can his aching knees hold up? JUCO transfer Leon Brown is expected to step in immediately and be a possibility at right tackle even though last year's backup to Fluker - junior Austin Shepherd - could grab the gig with a strong offseason.

2. Boise State
The difference between an 11-2 season and a 13-0 perfect season was a running game that came up with a season-low 37 rushing yards in the loss to Michigan State and just 112 yards in the loss to San Diego State. While the Bronco line was tremendous in pass protection, it was wildly inconsistent when it came to generating a push for the running game. However, it was a cohesive group of veterans that didn't make a slew of big mistakes. This year, it's going to take some reworking up front, and the moves could mean the difference between a BCS bowl and a trip to Las Vegas or a home bowl.

Senior Matt Paradis returns at center and all-star Charles Leno is back for his final year at left tackle, but guards Joe Kellogg and Michael Ames are gone along with right tackle Brenel Myers. Senior Spencer Gerke can play either center or guard, and with six games of starting experience he should be ready to fill in for Kellogg on the left side. The hope is for veteran Jake Broyles to stay healthy enough to take over the right guard spot, while sophomore Rees Odhiambo needs to establish himself at right guard.

3. Michigan
How soon can Patrick Kugler - the nation's top tackle prospect - and Kyle Bosch - one of the nation's best guards - be available? Taylor Lewan decided he wasn't quite ready to be a multi-millionaire and returns at left tackle - everything else should fall into place from there. Also helping the cause is the return of senior right tackle Michael Schofield, who despite being a pure right tackle might have been destined to take over on the left side if Lewan had left early. However, the interior of the line has to undergo an overhaul losing guards Ricky Barnum and Patrick Omameh along with center Elliott Mealer. And now the fun begins.

The Wolverine offensive front was terrific in pass protection and did a good job of getting Denard Robinson loose for the ground game. Blasting away up the middle is going to be the focus with star talent Kyle Kalis looking to take over one of the guard spots and Joey Burzynski getting a shot at the other opening, even though he's built to play center and could kick to the middle. Bosch will be in the hunt right away for one of the guard jobs, but this spring it would be nice if the inside could everyone can spend the summer jelling.

4. Florida
When last we saw the Florida offensive line, it was doing its best to see how many times quarterback Jeff Driskel could get flattened. Louisville destroyed the Gator front five that was fantastic at pounding away with the running game, but miserable when it came to pass protection. This offseason, it's not just about finding some new guys, it's about building up the depth. Left tackle Xavier Nixon is gone along with guard James Wilson, and now it's up to the rest of the three returning starters to serve as steady anchors. Junior tackle Chaz Green and senior guard Jon Halapio should be set on the right side, but either one, or both, could end up moving over to add more experience on the left. However, Halapio needs to come up with a steadier year and has to show he's ready to be more consistent. Jonotthan Harrison is the anchor at center, and he needs to be a rock with versatile backup Sam Robey gone. D.J. Humphries has the upside to grow into the left tackle job, but he has to get bigger and stronger after playing at a thin 6-6 and 275. Senior Kyle Koehne is the favorite to take over one of the guard jobs, and he could be tried out at tackle, too.

5. West Virginia
While all the focus and attention is on the loss of quarterback Geno Smith and high-octane playmakers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, the decent offensive line has to deal with almost as many changes. Step One was finding a new coach for the line, and Dana Holgorsen came up with Ron Crook, whose job it is to come up with the right combination for the interior of a line that was way, way too inconsistent. Junior Quinton Spain is set at left tackle and Curtis Feight should be set on the right side, but center Joe Madsen and guards Josh Jenkins and Jeff Braun are gone.  The hope is for JUCO transfer Stone Underwood to take over for Madsen, but he doesn't get off the bus until this summer, so it'll be a fight this spring to see if someone else - like Tyler Orlosky - can take the job by the horns. Finding guards could be a bigger issue needing senior at Eger to be a rock at one of the spots while hoping someone emerges from the pack to grab the other job.

6. Wisconsin
The problems of the first half of last season and the team's offensive woes were blamed on the mediocre play of the line. Forget that defenses didn't respect the bad passing game and loaded up to stop the run, the line was considered the problem with Bret Bielema making several changes to the lineup and canning OL coach Mike Markuson to try getting more production. Under new head man Gary Andersen and line coach T.J. Woods, the line and style won't be changing much, but there will be a little bit of juggling to fill in the gaps. Guard Kyle Costigan and tackle Rob Havenstein are back on the right side, but Havenstein could move over to the left to replace Ricky Wagner. The bigger fight will be at center with sophomore Dan Voltz getting the first shot to replace Travis Frederick, who left early for the NFL, but versatile guard Dallas Lewallen will be tested out at left tackle while also getting a little bit of work in the middle. The goal for the new staff is to get the starting five in place as soon as humanly possible to start working on developing the rest of the offense, but that can't happen quite yet with Costigan trying to heal up from knee surgery.

7. Notre Dame
Somewhat quietly, the offensive line was one of the key parts to the run to the BCS championship. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by the defense during the regular season and then the epic performance by the Alabama offensive front in the title game. This offseason, the Irish offense has to unearth a few new running backs while hoping for Everett Golson to become an even bigger playmaker, but the line has to do its job by first replacing center Braxston Cave and guard Mike Golic Jr. Zack Martin will be on the All-America short list at left tackle and Christian Lombard is steady on the right side, but it's Chris Watt who has to shine as the lone returning starter in the interior. Watt is solid at left guard, and now it should be up to versatile junior tackle Nick Martin to take over the right guard job. Matt Hegarty is expected to return healthy and step in at center, but he's not a sure thing. Sophomore Ronnie Stanley will be the key backup at tackle while junior Conor Hanratty will fight for one of the guard jobs.

8. Texas Tech
The Red Raider line did its job in pass protection allowing a mere 19 sacks on 594 passing attempts, but the offense and the quarterbacks had a lot to do with that. There wasn't much of an emphasis on the ground game, but when the line had to generate a push, it did its job. New head coach Kliff Kingsbury has the receivers in place, and quarterback Michael Brewer should be good with a little bit of time, but the line has to get everything in place with three very big starters gone - now the hope is to get lighter and more athletic. The Tech offense can't run unless the tackles are doing their jobs, but LaAdrian Waddle is gone on the left side and the massive Terry McDaniel is finished on the right. Terry Keenan is almost 50 pounds lighter than McDaniel, and Rashad Fortenberry is roughly 55 pounds lighter than Waddle. Junior Beau Carpenter and sophomore Le'Raven Clark should be set at guards, but Jared Kaster needs to step up and produce when given the chance at center in place of Deveric Gallington. 

9. Auburn
There's an outside chance that no unit in America will improve faster than the Auburn offensive front that's full of talent, youth and potential. All five starters return - all underclassmen last year - and there's a world of upside with offensive line coach J.B. Grimes needing to turn this group into a quicker bunch that's more in shape. Gus Malzahn wants to get his offense moving, and he has the right mix of players to do it. However, it's going to take the entire offseason to get everything in the right spot. Center Reese Dismukes was a terrific recruit who should grow into the leader up front, while tackles Greg Robinson and Patrick Miller have the the size to go along with the talent at guard with John Sullen back on the left side and Chad Slade on the right. After allowing the most sacks of any SEC team and with struggles paving the way for the running game, the pressure will be on.

10. Arkansas
Bret Bielema isn't going to stand for anything less than a dominant offensive line, but it could be a little while until he has the right parts in place. The recruiting class was full of some excellent prospects, but no one's expecting giant Dan Skipper to be an answer right away. However, JUCO transfer John McLure is being brought in to fill a hole immediately. Last year's front five was a disaster for the SEC's worst ground game, even with Dennis Johnson and Knile Davis in the backfield. The pass protection was fine, but Bielema wants his offense to flatten people. Guard Tyler Deacon and tackle Jason Peacock are gone, and now it's up to big guard Alvin Bailey, center Travis Swanson and tackle David Hurd to be more physical and be stronger with a green group of running backs to block for.

- More key 2013 spring offensive line battles