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Position-alysis: Offensive Line

Continuing the process of semi-analyzing the depth at every position, introducing you to the men playing those positions, and revealing how difficult it is to write something about someone you have never seen play.

Check out all the position-alysis
Wide Receivers | Linebackers | Backfield | D-Line | Quarterback | O-Line | Secondary | Special Teams

Today we will take a look at the Offensive Line, finishing up Position-alysis for the offensive side of things. And since we have covered everyone on offense, once the season gets here no one can say they don't know who someone is. In fact, if you are in the stands 9/4 and you overhear someone ask their buddy, "Hey, who is our backup quarterback?" you have every right to glare that motherfucker down, grit your teeth and scathe, "If you had read Position-alysis, you would know that it is Johnny Deaton!". Then insult their girl/boyfriend and demand that they fetch you two Grillaronis.

As for the O-line...with four new starters executing a new scheme and replacing a unit that lead the way to 2500 rushing yards while surrendering only 12 sacks, the offensive line has the most question marks of any of the Cowboys units heading into the 2010 season. There is a lot of size and talent in this group, but conventional wisdom says that experience is what defines a good offensive line, so there is a justified reason to be concerned - or is there? (oooooo... plot twist..) Quoting Bill C. of Football Outsiders College and Rock M Nation (as I plan to do at least a hundred times this season) from his Texas Tech: Beyond the Box Score Offensive Preview:

When I was setting up the Football Outsiders projections this offseason, I threw basically every projection factor I could think of into an excel spreadsheet (I didn't even know you could get to Column LK) and checked out the strength of the correlations between a given factor and its impact (positive or negative) on the next year's performance. Easily the single biggest surprise was how little effect returning OL starters had on the team's performance. I assumed that would be one of the stronger projection factors, and it simply was not. There was not enough data to use the "returning career starts" factor that is gaining in popularity, and I hope to add that to the mix next season, but quite simply, returning starting OL's barely even factored into the FO projection equation.

So basically, according to the leading football stat dudes on the planet, the number of returning starters on the o-line isn't much, if any, of an indicator of future success. Take that every douche that bases their season predictions purely on returning starters. Take it!
Incidentally, Phil Steele has this unit ranked as the worst o-line in the Big XII, based mostly on number of returning starters.

Other "interesting" questions heading into the season are what splits will be taken by the offensive line, and what blocking scheme will be employed. With Holgorsen implementing a version of the air raid system, will the line stick to the tight, zone blocking scheme that has lead Oklahoma State to four straight years of leading the Big XII in rushing, or will they switch to utilizing wider splits as we have seen from a lot of in teams that run air raid-ish schemes? While the one-on-one nature of wide splits is putting a lot of faith in 4 first year starters, it is a huge part of opening the field for all the slants and screens that destroyed us in the Houston game. While I can see pros and cons either way, the exclusion of TE's on the depth chart leads me to believe that the lineman splits will have to be wider than in past seasons. But that is a whole other subject that we should discuss in a future post, for now... let's meet the guys that will be blocking for Mr. Hunter, and MDM Brandon Weeden.

The Lone Returning Starter

Lane Taylor | RG | 6-2 | 301 | So | Arlington
Solidified himself as the starter last year after beginning the season at the bottom of the depth chart. Taylor started the last 11 games of the season. Since arriving in Stillwater, Taylor has stayed at the same weight but has traded a lot of fat for muscle, making him stronger and quicker (muscles do that doctor). That speed and power makes him an excellent run blocker, and very good at getting to the second level before the RB so he can clear out a waiting linebacker. Check out the 30 second mark of this video from the ISU game last year and watch #68 explode out of his stance, check the DT to keep him locked up with his blocker, then quickly move to the second level and take the LB out of the play. I know that the video is kinda bad, and I don't expect you to rewind it as many times as I had to in order to make sense of it... just look at how #68 ends up in the end zone at the end of the play - that means he can get upfield quickly, and you should consider that to be a positive trait in a blocker... just like you should consider condescension to be a positive trait in a blogger. Also watch the next play on that video if you want to see Lane throw a dude to the ground.

While down on the unit as a whole, Phil Steele is big on Taylor, having him listed as preseason 2nd team All-Big XII. Also worth noting, Taylor is a converted center so he possesses a versatile skill set and could be moved around if need be. However, with Garner impressing everyone this spring with his performance at the center position, it looks like Taylor will return to his old spot where he was effective last season.

The Guys That Will Probably be the New Starters

Nick Martinez | LT | 6-4 | 317 | Ju | Floresville, TX
A big, athletic, converted guard to tight end to tackle that is looking to fill the biggest void left in the departure of four o-line starters. The man that has to replace Russell Okung at left tackle, was a high school All-American, and was rated as the 67th best guard in the country by Rivals in 2007. He has Okung's size and can move well, the question marks are his form and motor as he has yet to see significant playing time, and has bulked up quite a bit so is playing at a new weight. However, the coaches are big on Martinez's ability to step in for Okung and perform well, although not at the AA level we saw at LT last season. But if the full blown Houston style offense is in effect, Martinez should only have to hold his blocks for a second or two to protect MDM Weeden's blindside long enough to throw screens and slants anyway.

Did y'all see that movie "The Blindside"? That Sandra Bullock is the best and I just cried and cried at the end. I wish that kind of stuff would happen in real life.

Jonathan Rush | LG | 6-4 | 314 | Jr | Killeen
Speaking of guys that have bulked up... Rush has gained the "Junior 65" (doesn't quite have the "Freshman 15" ring to it) and he is ready to break out. This former wrestler (not pro) has been marked by the program as a difference maker for a while now and will finally get his shot in 2010. Rush is super powerful, can push people around, has great drive out of his stance, and has very quick feet good for picking up gap-shooting LB's or for pulling on outside tosses. The word "athletic" is used frequently in descriptions of Rush's ability. Rush was projected as a starter in 2009 before a shoulder injury caused him to miss the entire season. This is a point that is usually overlooked when people are predicting Oklahoma State to finish with 5-6 wins because "they lost almost all of their o-line". It is safe to say that we could expect zero dropoff in production at this position, and Rush could be considered an upgrade over 2009 starting LG Noah Franklin.

Grant Garner | C | 6-3 | 290 | Jr | Mesquite
As mentioned above, Garner was frequently referred to as "impressive" in spring practices and, like Rush, is someone coaches have been expecting great things from once he gets his turn. And now it's his turn. Garner was a considered a big sign as he was rated as the #18 center by Rivals and was heavily recruited. He boasts one of the more beautiful mustaches in college football, and is often called "smart" by the coaching staff, and smarts are a necessity at the center position. Although technically, when someone has a mustache they shouldn't be referred to as "smart"... the correct compliment in reference to the intelligence of someone with a mustache is "wise".

Parker Graham | RT | 6-7 | 289 | RsFr | Webb City, MO
Graham is currently listed as the starting right tackle, but it is expected that he and Adcock will be battling for the starting spot throughout August. The main thing to know about Graham's ability is listed right up there by his name... 6'7". That is some good reach and a huge frame to be able to throw in front of oncoming rushers. A defensive end has to take two extra steps to try to beat Graham around the outside. Graham is another one that has bulked up significantly gaining 40 pounds in the past year (nice work Rob Glass!), while supposedly retaining all of his athleticism. He obviously impressed in the spring as he came out of it listed as the starter despite Adcock being the odds on favorite for the spot. For most freshmen o-lineman, their main downfall is consistency, so if Graham can perform at the same high level in practice, he can expect to be the starter come 9/4.

If there is one issue with Parker Graham it is that his name is Parker Graham. You can't be a tough offensive lineman with the name Parker Graham. " Oh Parker Graham, I'm sure running sled drills on your dad's yacht off the southern coast of France wearing your specially fitted D&G elbow brace have really prepared you for this season." What I am saying is, Parker Graham needs a nickname if he is going to succeed on the line. Hoss Graham or Moose Graham will run over some Big XII ends while Parker Graham sits on the bench and insults the cheapness of various fan's attire.

Levy Adcock | RT | 6-6 | 320 | Jr | Claremore
Another monster of a man, Adcock is a JUCO transfer that was offered by a ton of top schools. He played in every game last year (mostly on special teams) and even saw some time at tight end. Is considered to have the best blocking skill set of all the offensive lineman and regardless of whether him or Graham end up starting at RT, he will see a lot of playing time.

The Backups

Anthony Morgan | G | 6-5 | 310 | Sr | Lancaster, TX
A candidate for a lot of playing time, Morgan was thought to be an immediate impact player last season after earning All-American honors and rated as the #1 o-line prospect by Rivals at the JUCO level. He ended up seeing some action in every game last year and earned a start for the Houston game. Morgan should be heavily used in the rotation, and in the mix for a starting position when the season opens.

Brandon Webb | G | 6-3 | 326 | RsFr | Owasso
A big recruit who's father was an All-American O-lineman at OU. Webb is another one that is in the mix to possibly start as his raw ability and athleticism make him a tough player to leave on the bench.

Jordan Taormina | T | 6-4 | 327 | Sr | Santa Ana, CA
Experienced senior that adds some needed depth at the tackle position. Notice that the rest of the reserves all play on the interior.

Evan Epstein | G | 6-2 | 290 | So | McKinney
A transfer from the Air Force Academy who had to sit out last season. Was heavily recruited and provides good depth at either the guard or center position.

Casey LaBrue | C | 6-3 | 290 | Jr | Enid
Saw limited action last season and provides even more depth in the interior. Also, I wonder if this is his stage name... I bet his real name is Casey Phillips?

Patrick Hoog | G | 6-4 | 296 | So | Castroville, TX
Big strong hoss that could be in the rotation in the middle. And apparently his max bench is 485! That is like one and a half CincyJoes!

The True Freshmen
More than likely, all of the guy below will redshirt as all but Anthony are not yet at a decent Big XII playing weight. Dickerson is considered to have the most potential of the group and can play tackle which is a rough spot for depth right now, making him the most likely of anyone to see action this year.

Gerron Anthony | 6-3 | 315 | Fr | Tyler

Eli Dickerson | 6-6 | 280 | Fr | The Woodlands, TX

Jacob Jenkins | 6-3 | 255 | Fr | Gilmer, TX

Daniel Koenig | 6-6 | 260 | Fr | Cape Coral, FL

Javius Townsend | 6-4 | 280 | Fr | Dallas

Along with Wide Receivers, the O-line looks to be one of the most wide open units heading into pre-season practices. No one on this line is completely entrenched in their spot so if anyone impresses in August they are a threat to move up the depth chart. If you are looking at someone to have a breakout year, Brandon Webb seems the most likely candidate. Wickline loves him, and he has already been described as "future All-Big XII material". A second choice would be Parker Graham assuming he gets a nickname, and Jonathan Rush will be good, but I wouldn't necessarily call that "breaking out" as he is expected to start from day 1.

It is pretty cliche to say/type this, but the o-line is the key to this offense succeeding. If the right mixture of these guys can give MDM Weeden the time he needs, and open up a little room for Mr Hunter, this offense could be extremely explosive. (How helpful was that sentence?..."hey, if everyone plays well this team could be good.") But seriously, if everyone on the line plays well, this offense could be really good.