Five Things is a handful (i.e., five) of thoughts about a single topic. Hopefully, discussion ensues.
Building the Offensive Line
I know that I'm not worried about the quarterback, the running back and the receivers, but this is an in-depth look at the offensive line.
1: Is Experience Overrated?
Much of Phil Steele's rankings are based on the experienced players returning and right now, Texas Tech sits at 106th in the nation. The experience factor is why Texas Tech isn't even in Steele's top 40 teams of 2009 (again, it's just someone's opinion) and much of that probably hinges on the fact that Texas Tech, on the surface, may be replacing 3 startes from last year, C Stephen Hamby, LT Rylan Reed and LG Louis Vasquez. There's really no way to write how much those guys meant to the Texas Tech offense last year especially if you consider how much time QB Graham Harrell had last year. Last year, Texas Tech gave up only 13 sacks the entire year (113 yards) and RB Baron Batch lost only 13 yards and RB Shannon Woods lost only 12 yards in 2008. That's a very low total of only 138 yards for the entire 2008 campaign. Again, that's an incredibly efficient offense that starts entirely up front with the offensive line, so to dismiss the importance of replacing starters along the offensive line isn't a bad line of thought when looking at offenses in 2009.
2: The Man at the Top
I had my doubts whenever Captain Leach hired little-known offensive line coach Matt Moore, hired from Troy University with only one year of college coaching experience and a number of years at the high school level. It seems like quite a stretch to be quite honest, but I'm not sure that this could have worked out any better for Texas Tech. I'm not sure who to attribute the quote, but it was something to the effect of find the guy that can hike the ball, and play the best four players after that. I don't think it was Moore, but you could certainly say that he believes in that philosophy. I'm not certain about this, but I believe that Moore, regardless of position, wants to find the best players and really doesn't worry too much about position. Of course, there are limitations to this, as you obviously cannot have a guy that has really bad feet or isn't athletic on the edge, but he did do this in some respect with Rylan Reed last year. Reed seemed to be a very athletic LT, but after his ankle injury in 2007, he wasn't as mobile as he had been the previous two years. Despite that, Moore felt that Reed was the best player available and he needed to be on the field.
3: Change In Tackles
Rylan Reed was a wonderful left tackle for Texas Tech, but he wasn't exactly mobile. He was incredibly strong and Texas Tech certainly played to his strength. Playing on an island, you can sometimes minimize the faults of a player, but it can also feature those faults. Brandon Carter started the spring out at left tackle and I thought at the time that this may not be the position best suited for Carter. Carter, much like Reed, is a huge guy and strength is his forte and I think he has decent footwork, but to me, he's not the kind of footwork to play left tackle. I'd even go so far to say that Carter's best position in the NFL will be at guard and I think he'll excel at that position. With Carter's knee injury, although not serious, he was replaced with redshirt freshman Terry McDaniel at left tackle. One of my thoughts during the spring game was that I was very much impressed with the way that McDaniel played and was especially impressed with his athleticism at this position. The difference between Carter and McDaniel, in my opinion, was that McDaniel seemed to have better footwork, but lacked the strength that Carter has, not to mention the all important know-how in playing along the line. There's no doubt that whoever plays at left tackle, that player is going to have to handle the likes of UT's Sergio Kindle and OU's Gerald McCoy, to name just two, and if it were me, I'd fall on the side of having the more athletic guy.
Marlon Winn is a guy that doesn't get much pre-season press, but if you want to talk about guys that are true athletes along the offensive line, I think you start with Winn. Winn, at least to me, represents the wave of the future with the Texas Tech line. Winn is the type of player that can contain most defensive ends and to be honest, prior to the spring, I thought that he would be a perfect replacement at left tackle. Not knowing the progress of McDaniel, especially since he didn't play all of last year, I thought that Winn would pick-up right where Reed left off and would protect Taylor Potts blindside for the next year. And perhaps this is a bit of forward thinking by Moore, but I get the feeling that Moore wants to have a guy in McDaniel to hold that spot for quite some time, which may explain the reason why he's staying at right tackle, but if push came to shove and none of the LT options work out, I have no doubt that Winn could step-in without missing a beat.
Chris Olson represents Moore's philosophy more than any other player. Moore has said that Olson could essentially play any position along the offensive line. Olson is too good to be on the sideline this year, and if a guy struggles then you could see Olson relatively quickly. And that's not to say that Olson won't start either. But that type of versatility is something that's starting to show up in recruiting as well.
Clark shows some versatility at both offensive guard and offensive tackle. He is a big tall and lean football player that can become a real talent if he works on foot agility and plays with better leverage.
Same goes for Joel Gray, where the ESPN evaluation states that Gray could play either tackle or guard:
Gray has a good motor as a strong side offensive tackle but is better suited for the guard position. He is an impressive 6'6" and at 285 pounds and has the dimensions you're looking for in an offensive lineman.
Defenders have trouble getting around such a huge specimen and the long arms are effective in keeping pass rusher away from body. Must be careful to not be beaten underneath. Waddle has real potential because he moves well for such a big player. If he works on trimming down and improve foot quickness and technique he will be a highly sought after lineman.
Matt Goetz, I think is penciled in as a center, played guard in college, but there's nothing for me to think in his ESPN evaluation that he couldn't play guard or tackle:
Goetz is a very solid offensive lineman that is made for the guard position. He has good size and still could add strength and bulk. Very good run blocker that comes off the ball quickly and delivers a real jolt to the defender. Sometimes loses control and has trouble sustaining; needs to be consistent at locking into the defender's frame. Gives excellent effort and drives his legs after contact at the point of attack. Has a little problem with the backside cutoff and loses defensive man across his face. Good short stepper on the reach and zone block. Goetz should develop into a fine offensive guard at the next level.
5: Rounding Out the Rest
If you're wondering about the rest of the line, I think the same type of thing can be said about the rest of the group. Shawn Byrnes is expected to start at center, but I've come around greatly on Byrnes' backup Justin Keown. After watching him a bit during the spring game, he can play. The same goes for right guards, Mickey Okafor and Deveric Gallington, additional athletic guys that I think could play a number of positions if asked. After Winn graduates next year I get the feeling that if Olson hasn't found a spot anywhere else, he'll step up at this spot and Joe King could easily assert himself, much like McDaniel, during the offseason. Lonnie Edwards was one of the higher rated recruits coming out of the 2007 signing class, and although he's yet to find a spot, that's another player that could step up for Carter at left guard when he graduates next year.