You've Heard This Before | Let's Talk About Changes to the Offensive Line

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I previously scoffed at changes to the offensive line, but maybe they're worth discussing, including the move of All-Big 12 tackle Le'Raven Clark to guard.

I am naturally resistant to change. I really dislike it. When offensive line coach Lee Hays talked about switching Le’Raven Clark to guard or somewhere else, I really didn’t even give it a chance. I didn’t really even think about how or if this would work. So, let’s do that. Let’s give it some real earnest thought about how it would work and how it could maybe be beneficial.

So let’s think about this. I’ve watched the Holiday Bowl game again, and after an initial rough few plays, Rashad Fortenberry had a pretty good game. As you all may recall, Fortenberry received an additional year of eligibility and so even though he was a senior last year, he’ll get another year of eligibility this next year. Fortenberry is pretty athletic at right tackle, but he could be better. I think that Fortenberry really lacks strength and punch at right tackle and being a real force and maybe that’s a theme for the offensive line.

In watching the line on the Holiday Bowl, the one thing that really stands out to me is the idea that the offensive line isn’t getting a huge push, even when they’re just creating holes, I think this line very much lacks that punch that you associate with getting a push along the line.  It's surprisingly consistent. At some point this past year, offensive line coach Lee Hays decided that he needed to go with the most athletic guys at offensive line, guys that could stick in front of the opponent rather than move the opponent. Ideally, you want a guy that can do both, but when you have a passing team and you have to choose between one or another, then you choose the former. Especially with a freshman quarterback, you have to make that the first priority and that’s understandable.

Really, Fortenberry is the perfect example of what Hays chose, which is that Fortenberry isn’t going to beat up opposing defenses, but stay in front of your man.

I decided to consider the question about how to make the line a mauling offensive line. I’ll fully admit that a lot of this is dependent on some of the JUCO guys coming through, but I think they were recruited for a reason and I think there’s a reason why Hays is planting the seeds right now about moving Clark. Let’s look at the starting lineup during the Holiday Bowl, along with heights and weights:

LT: Le'Raven Clark (6-5/320)
LG: Baylen Brown (6-4/305)
C: Jared Kaster (6-3/275)
RG: Beau Carpenter (6-6/285)
RT: Rashad Fortenberry (6-5/285)

That's an offensive line that averages 294 pounds overall, which seems odd. I think if you were to have asked me prior to doing the math, I would have said that the line would have AT LEAST averaged over 300 pounds, but that's not the case. Maybe the thing that's the most surprising to me is the fact that the interior of the line, averages only 288 pounds. This is supposed to be the beef of the line, where you have your road graders and that's just not happening here.

Again, in retrospect, I don't fault Hays for going this route because he had to make a choice between protection vs. trying to push the line of scrimmage. Ideally, you’d like both, but I don’t think that Hays really had that luxury last year.

We know that Carpenter has been dismissed from the team, although I think he's still hanging around the players. But I would have guessed he's over 285, but according to his old bio, he wasn't.

Now, let's look at some of the other options that Hays is looking at, which is moving Clark inside to left guard. That immediately adds 15 pounds to that position, but we need to look at the flip side, which is that this would mean that Dominique Robertson is going to left tackle and his JUCO numbers have him at 6-5/300.  Clark's biggest problem, despite being as good as he is, is with speed rushers. He just can't contain sometimes and I think this was even true during the spring scrimmage in parts. Arizona St. knew what they wanted to do (of course it helps to have Clark's former coach in Chris Thomsen giving some advice) and Clark struggled I think in that game, not to the point that Webb was on his back, but Clark was on the ropes quite a bit. It wasn't easy for him, that's for sure.

But moving Robertson to the left side, who I think sets up pretty good, and he does attack on the run, something that you just don't get the sense that Clark does. Sometimes, it just feels that Clark plays on his heels a bit. Or maybe he isn't playing as aggressively as he could.  Maybe by thinking about moving Clark to guard, he'll regain that aggressiveness, that explosion. Maybe Hays thinks that Robertson is going to be better for that speed rush that seems so problematic for Texas Tech.

The right guard spot though is the one that I think could use the biggest upgrade and I think that starts and ends with Shaquille Davis. Watching his film again, and there's no doubt in my mind that he is more aggressive and he does run block with a chip on his shoulder. By adding Davis, you add 35 pounds (if he really weighs 320) to the offensive line. That's a pretty big flip.

Kaster is a guy that's been really solid, but Hays is giving a good look to Alfredo Morales inside at center. And before we go any further, I’m not advocating anyone losing their job or anything like that. Just looking at options. In any event, Hays and Kingsbury are giving a long look at Alfredo at center and I’d imagine that they want to give Alfredo the opportunity to compete at that spot. And this isn't a disparagement against Kaster, but at sometime, his weight at 275 is light and he may not be able to put weight on, but when the man in front of you is 315 or 320, then over the course of a game, there's a chance he might not have the same push.

I don’t think that Hays and everyone else would have fought so hard for Fortenberry just to bench him. Like Clark, I don’t think that Fortenberry is a puncher. A punisher on the offensive line. He’s a protector who very much got better as the year progressed. Apparently, all of the other options at tackle are at Fortenberry’s size or smaller. Matt Wilson is 6-6/280. Trey Keenan is 6-6/270. Wilson may be retiring from the game, so he may not be an option any more.  But . . . Poet Thomas is 6-5/335. Now, not all of that weight when Thomas came in was good weight and I’d guess that he probably slimmed down some, but he’s the biggest option at tackle. You can also throw in Josh Outlaw, who is being given an opportunity at tackle this spring and he’s at 6-5/290. So, other than Thomas, you’re pretty much going to get a 6-5/290 tackle, so we won’t move Fortenberry.

I think mixing in those changes now, it would look something like this:

LT: Dominique Robertson (6-5/300)
LG: Le'Raven Clark (6-5/320)
C: Alfredo Morales (6-3/320)
RG: Shaquille Davis (6-4/320)
RT: Rashad Fortenberry (6-5/285)

You’re now looking at an offensive line that averages almost 310 pounds, a 15 pound difference to what was starting last year.

And before you say, "That damned Tuberville recruited some lightweight linemen," I think the idea is that a lot of these players just didn’t add on weight for whatever reason. Keenan wasn’t supposed to just add 10 pounds out of high school. That’s just not normal. And Kingsbury recruited Cody Hayes, who at 275 was a Le’Raven Clark starter-kit, but not a real heavy player.

Obviously, there's more to it than just bigger = better. I know better than that, but I am advocating that I think bigger players give you a better chance to compete against bigger players. Nothing revolutionary there.

I'd also add that this is really simplistic and it really turned into one of those things where I wanted to know something, which was the size of the line, and was genuinely surprised how light the players were than what I really thought. Still, I thought it was worth sharing (it's a really long offseason).

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