Oh boy, it's our favorite position group, the big beautiful beasts of the offensive line. These mercurial creatures are the key to success in college football. They get no glory and they live to serve. We rank the line groups for the twelve Texas FBS teams based on returning starts, last season's success or lack there of, and any infusion of new talent.
Line play is technical in nature, not just big brutes shoving each other around. With that frame of reference we're looking for "knee benders" not "waist benders." Think of the lower apex of a power clean and how the upper body and lower body are lined up and knees are bent. That's what we want to see, generally, out of linemen's "sets" or the way they get into pass protection and run blocking. We want players that play under their pads to maintain balance, use their arms to shoot or punch defenders and finish blocks with leg drive. We also like them to be a bit mean and even, dare we say, a smidge dirty. Yes, more than a smidge.
Call us fools, but we're buying into the Texas offensive line. Again. We did it in 2014 when all five starters returned. We even liked it with two freshman playing big minutes in 2015. We like it now. Perhaps our faith will be rewarded.
Connor Williams has the look of a player who's going to play for a long time at the next level. Williams was a Freshman All-America and a First Team All-America last season as a sophomore. Chances are this will be his last season in Austin. He's the foundation of the Longhorns front along with Patrick Vahe. Vahe, a guard garnered Freshman All-America honors and made nine starts last season in a year where he admitted he lost his way a bit. Vahe claims he's in a better place and moves back to left guard along side Williams.
Film Study: Connor Williams
Looks natural, great fundamental foundation, makes the game look easy. Uses arms and reach well. Can lose leverage/be a little high on run blocks.
At the other guard junior Jake McMillon was the surprise of 2016, emerging to take his spot by storm. He'll be flanked by Zach Shackelford the sophomore from Belton who started at center last year. Shackelford is a brute inside who plays with a chip on his shoulder. He struggled this spring with an ankle injury. If he's not ready then McMillon slides over to center and Elijah Rodriguez gets a shot a right guard.
The other tackle is in open competition. Last season's starter Brandon Hodges announced his transfer last week. Denzel Okafor played quite a bit in the 18 wheeler package last season and looks to have the inside track. 6-9 Tristen Nickelson started twice in 2016 and the senior can't be counted out entering fall camp.
The Horns have some depth with a couple of four-star redshirt freshman filling second team roles. Patrick Hudson is as physical as they come and JP Urquidez could step in at tackle if necessary. Sophomore tackle Jean Delance was given time on the second team unit as well.
Last season TCU's offensive line was average. Just average. The Frogs were 66th in adjusted sack rate, 76th in power success rate, 46th in yards per carry, and 90th in sacks allowed. TCU returns almost their entire two-deep including All-Big 12 center Austin Schlottman.
Best of the Power 5: Connor Williams
Best of the G5: Will Hernandez
Top Newcomer: Jack Anderson
Schlottman is listed second on the depth chart coming out of the spring. This might be a temporary demotion due to his offseason injury, but at this point Patrick Morris is listed as the starter. Morris is a man mountain who bench presses 500 pounds and squats 720. If Schlottman is back, it frees Morris up to move back to guard where he made nine starts.
6-7, 350 pound Matt Pryor has made eighteen straight starts at right guard. He is a mauler inside. On the other side, assuming Morris isn't there, junior Trey Elliott is listed as the starter. He missed half of 2016 due to injury. Elliott made two starts at left guard. He's as close to a question mark as the Frogs have inside. He was bullied at times by more physical players.
TCU must replace Aviante Collins and his 35 starts at tackle. Right now the Frogs are turning to Luca Niang, a true sophomore who played nine games in 2016, mostly on special teams. On the other side Plano's Joseph Noteboom returns. Noteboom has been a solid contributor with 26 starts, eleven on the right side and fifteen on the left side.
Overall the Frogs are talented and deep and if they can replace Collins there's no reason to think they can't be better in 2017.
3. Texas A&M
The Aggies were young on the offensive line last year, this season they're older but replacing two NFL tackles won't be easy. Neither will all the new spots thanks to A&M's musical chairs. The Ags were a better than average run blocking team last season. Kevin Sumlin is hoping line coach Jim Turner can mix and match without losing effectiveness. Koda Martin had a chance at right tackle last year, but ended up playing in relief. This year he will hold down the left tackle position. He's a converted defensive lineman who transitioned to the offensive side two years ago.
At right tackle either Oklahoma transfer Christian Daimler or Keaton Sutherland will fill out the spot. Sutherland made starts at guard last season. Daimler played sparingly at OU the last three years.
Inside, freshman All-America center Erik McCoy moves to guard. He's the best lineman on campus and moving to guard will eliminate snapping issues he had in 2016. He and Colton Prater will switch positions. Prater missed the spring due to injury, so the grand experiment will play out in fall camp. If Prater isn't able to handle it, either McCoy moves back and no harm done or Austin Anderson will get a look. His twin brother Riley Anderson will back up McCoy at guard.
At the other guard spot Connor Lanfear returns. He also missed the spring due to injury, but he was solid in 2016.
Once Jerry Saena found his spot on the SMU offensive line, he made the most of it. After playing defense for two seasons Saena's athletic and physical gifts came to together at guard on the offensive line. He's joined by Rimington Watch List member Evan Brown. Brown has started 34 games at guard and most recently center for the Mustangs. Those two form a very good base on the interior for the Mustangs.
Nick Natour started 10 games, all at left tackle last season. He came into his own on the field. He's a long lean tackle and a better athlete that one might think on first impression. Natour does a good job using his arms to extend and get into defenders' frames. He may move inside to guard where he played as a redshirt freshman. Inside as well Braylon Hyder brings thirteen career stars to the table. Hyder is listed at 326 pounds and he's a stopper in the middle of the offensive line.
On the outside Chad Pursley will return from a broken leg that cost him his 2016 season. He started nine games at left tackle in 2015. Bryce Wilds will also get a look. He made one start as a redshirt freshman in 2016. He and redshirt freshman Kadarius Smith will battle it out for playing time.
In terms of depth, Hyder is a Swiss Army knife who can play any of the interior positions or move outside. Saena has played tackle as well. True freshman Alan Ali is one of SMU's highest regarded offensive line signees in some time. He should appear on the depth chart as well.
5. Texas Tech
Last seasons Tech's pass happy offense allowed 30 sacks, 85th in the FBS. When it came to running ball, the Red Raiders averaged just 3.2 yards a carry, bad enough to rank 123rd in the country. Can Tech's offensive line made significant strides in 2017? There's reason for optimism.
Texas Tech may have found something in true freshman Jack Anderson. Anderson, from Frisco, is the highest regarded lineman signed by Tech in some time. The Red Raiders feel so strongly about Anderson's ability that he's set to start at right guard. Pick a big time program, including several SEC schools, and they all recruited Anderson.
Redshirt sophomore Madison Akamnonu started seven games at guard last season. He's in place at the other guard position provided he fully recovers from offseason back surgery. Backs are not to be trifled with. If not Long Beach City transfer Jacob Hines will get first crack.
At tackle Terence Steele is solid at right tackle. There were talks of moving him to the left side, but for now new line coach Brandon Jones wants to keep him on the right. The left side will be manned by sophomore Travis Bruffy who's added 30 pounds and transitioned from tight end. If his added weight doesn't effect his ability to move, he should be a plus athlete at the position.
At center the Red Raiders have Paul Stawarz starting after the spring. He's supplanting Tony Morales who's missed four seasons due to injury and will be in his seventh season in Lubbock. Morales can also play guard and he's a steadying force on the line and in the locker room.
UTEP may have the best interior lineman in college football in Will Hernandez. When you watch the tape from 2016 the first thing you notice is that when UTEP needed yards, they went left - behind Hernandez. He's a bull in a bar ditch. He erases people. Hernandez has started all 37 games in his UTEP career and was First Team All-CUSA and an AP All-America.
Film Study: Will Hernandez
Super strong, good base. Locks on and drives people out of the frame. If he gets decent hand placement its over. Not great in space. Physical and violent blocker.
At center Derron Gatewood out of Permian is a nice player who can play guard as well. Freshman All-CUSA performer Greg Long will be counted on at left tackle and Jerrod Brooks will play on the right edge. At 6-6, 330 pounds Brooks has ideal size and started five games last season. He's also added 30 pounds this offseason. We'll see how that weight sits. Long made four starts as a true freshman.
At the other guard Derek Elmendorff should plug in. Elmendorff has seen his playing time go down over the course of three years to the point that last year he didn't get a start. His weight has continued to go up at the same time.
Part of Sean Kugler's grand plan has been to create a line factory in El Paso. He has the depth and size he's been looking for. Markos Lujan and Tanner Stallings give the Miners solid reserves, Stallings started the last seven games at center in 2016.
Baylor is hurting for numbers up front. In spring ball the Bears had seven scholarship offensive linemen. After signing day 2016, that was the least of Baylor's worries as they'd signed J.P. Urquidez and Patrick Hudson, two four star cornerstones. After the scandal broke, they both headed to Texas and the number crunch started. After Tanner Thrift retired in May and Dom Desouza chose not to return for his senior year, the Bears are faced with playing young players early and often at a position where that is usually an issue.
The Thrift loss is compounded by the fact that he was penciled in to replace four year starter Kyle Fuller at center. That position is now vacant and void of a known commodity. Walk-on Daniel Russell was second string coming out of the spring.
Patrick Lawrence returns at right tackle and Blake Blackmar will start at guard on the right side. Lawrence notched a team most thirteen consecutive starts. Blackmar comes in second with twelve. At 6-5, 350 Blackmar struggles with mobility, but when he locks on he's a man mover.
Texas A&M transfer Ishmael Wilson will play at left guard once again. Mo Porter has been the most consistent player at left tackle. New offensive line coach George DeLeone has been high on Porter in particular after the spring.
Help is on the way this summer since Baylor signed six offensive linemen: Eleasah Anderson, Jason Moore, Xavier Newman, Henry Klinge III, Ryan Miller, and Khalil Keith. Newman is considered the best of the bunch. He played center at DeSoto. Most if not all of those youngsters will be counted on to play in 2017.
The Owls return all five starters from 2016. That could be very good news. Continuity is king on the offensive line. Still last year's unit, which will be this years unit as well, was 85th in the FBS in yards per rush and allowed 33 sacks - 102nd in college football. In short yardage the Owls were better, ranking 13th in stuff rate and 30th in power success rate.
Calvin Anderson is the most decorated of the bunch. Anderson, a left tackle out of Westlake, was Honorable Mention All-CUSA last year. His 24 career starts are most of any returning Owl.
Film Study: Calvin Anderson
Waist bender, drops head, loses balance. Much better on players head up. Physical in those situations. Might be better at guard. When engaged he drives, finishes blocks. At times has a bad/no first step in pass pro.
On the other side, right tackle Sam Pierce started all 12 games in 2016. The 6-6, 300 pound junior from St. Pius X started two games in 2015. At center Trey Martin started for the second straight season. He's played guard as well. A converted defensive tackle, Martin is the best run blocker on the team. He was voted Honorable Mention of CUSA in 2016. In two seasons Martin has allowed just one sack.
The guards are experienced. Pete Godber out of Toronto has 26 starts under his belt. He's played both guard positions, making four starts at right guard and seven at left guard in 2016. His partner is Cory Klingler who rebounded from offseason surgery to start eleven games in 2016 - starting at every interior position at least once. When Martin went down with injury in midseason, Klingler stepped in and started four games. He's an instinctual player who comes by his acumen for the game honestly, his dad Jimmy and uncle David played at Houston. Dad Jimmy is the offensive coordinator at Blinn.
UTSA's offensive line play, if expressed through a line graph it would have been trending up in 2016. The low point would have been pinned at the Colorado State game where the Roadrunners, in spite of really trying, ran for -1 yards. Seriously, they tried. A few personnel switches later, Runners had a functional, dare we say, good offensive front.
The interior of that line returns, headlined by Austin Pratt, Kyle McKinney, and Stefan Beard. They share a combined 46 starts. Beard stands out. He's a prototypical interior banger with better than average athleticism. McKinney, a senior from Boerne Champion, settled in at center but can play either guard spot. Finally Pratt missed the spring with injuries but is still listed as the starter on UTSA's handy post-spring depth chart.
Film Study: Stefan Beard
Really good athlete for his size. Great puller. Smart technician, attacks playside well, uses leverage, lets defenders take themselves out of plays. Consistent pass pro set. Can let opponents into his frame and get pushed around.
UTSA will replace two tackles after Gabe Casillas and Jevonte Domond. UTSA will look to the JC ranks and sophomore Josh Dunlop at left tackle. The 6-7, Dunlop gives the Roadrunners the size they're looking for. Based on the spring game, he should be a more than adequate replacement.
Reed Darragh will shift outside to tackle after playing guard the last two seasons. We have concerns about his ability on the edge. When his form lapses and he's not under his pads, he's a liability. When he gets a good set, back straight, knees bent he can stone rushers. Consistency in executing the latter will be the key.
After Drummond and Darragh, the tackle position is razor thin with no playing experience in reserve. Inside Juan Perez-Isidoro saw considerable action at center last season, he's better as a backup.
A caveat, this offensive line is well coached. They consistently have good sets and shuffles. They use their arms and hands well as a unit. Little things like footwork on pulls are well executed. That wasn't the case early on - but coaching helped cure it.
The question for Houston is were last years issues running the football due to continuity and injury issues or does it come down to talent and/or scheme? We'd like to think it's the former. The Coogs return almost everyone from their 2016 line, including some young players thrown into the fire who gained valuable experience. Houston fell from 13th in the country in rushing to 99th in 2016. They're production on the ground dropped by nearly 1,400 yards. Can Houston get back to running the ball? It all starts up front.
If Will Noble stays healthy, he's a bell cow in the middle at center. Noble missed spring practice recovering from injury. He's a two time Rimington Watch List finalist and has started 2o games in his two seasons at Houston. Noble also improved from year one to year two, that development should carry on as he continues masters the Cougar offense.
On Noble's left and right are Marcus Oliver, brother of freshman phenom Ed, and Mason Denley. Denley missed the spring with an injury but started six games last season as a redshirt sophomore. Oliver, a senior, has made fifteen starts in his career including eight at right guard. Houston used six different guards last season, rarely lining up the same pair back to back. Junior Kameron Eloph gained valuable experience making four starts at left guard. He will challenge for playing time as well. Alex Fontana started five games at guard in 2016. He's a thumper inside, but limited athletically compared to Denley and Oliver.
Redshirt sophomore Josh Jones was the only Cougar to start every game on the offensive line, holding down the left tackle position. We like Josh Jones a lot. He's a plus athlete and really grew into the position as a young player. He moves well and played more physical later in the year. Still we wouldn't mind seeing him get a little more junk in the proverbial trunk to take on physical edge players.
At the other tackle position Na'Ty Rogers and Braylon Jones split starts with Rogers, a JC transfer, starting the first seven games and Jones filling in for the last six. Ideally Rogers, a four-star recruit, would play the position. Braylon Jones, was thrown in as a true freshman. That experience is invaluable. He lacks ideal size to play on the edge and might be better inside.
11. North Texas
The Mean Green offensive line was a revolving door last season. Both in terms of personnel and results. North Texas allowed 93 tackles for loss and 43 sacks. The Mean Green lose their top two lineman in center Sam Rice and tackle Trey Keenan. This offseason guard Wylie Reinhardt retired due to injury.
The three returners will be counted on to hold things down, starting with Jordan Murray the 6-9 man mountain at tackle. Murray isn't exactly mobile, but we harken back to another Air Raid lineman from the Mike Leach era at Tech, Brandon Carter, who must've weighed 340 and couldn't run a 10 yard shuttle without collapsing, but he served a purpose. Murray doesn't so much block as he does shield and create an impediment. Given his lack of mobility, his best position might be inside.
Creighton Barr will slide into center. He started the first six games at center and played in nine games total. Senior T.J. Henson started nine games last season and should fill into one of the guard slots. Junior Chris Miles started three games at guard to round out the 2016 season. JC transfer Manase Mose brings a physical edge to the interior. He'll factor at guard or center.
The Mean Green staff would like to move Elex Woodworth back inside, but he may be needed at tackle. Much of that will depend on whether Jalen Thomas or Chandler Anthony step up. Anthony sat out last season with a broken leg. Thomas appeared twice in 2016 after transferring from ASA College.
12. Texas State
Texas State's offensive line was abysmal in 2016. The Bobcats allowed 44 sacks and rushed for an FBS worst 2.32 yards pre carry. The good news is 2016 is over, the better news is that Texas State can build around a talented sophomore Aaron Brewer.
Brewer started 11 games, seven at guard the last four at center. He'll play center in 2017. Though undersized, Brewer plays with great quickness and leverage. Larger nose tackles give Brewer problems, but he's smart and adept at getting to the second level.
Tryston Mizerak played in nine games at tackle last season. He put on 15 pounds this offseason, pushing him to 305. If he's in a phone booth he's a physical tackle with long arms who sets well. With speed rushers in space he's going to struggle. Expect junior Cedric Gambrell to get first shot at the other tackle spot. He's a converted defensive lineman who played a bit on offense last season. The Bobcats are hoping that redshirt freshman tackle Josiah Washington grows into his recruiting projections.
Inside the Bobcats will look to Jacob Rowland a redshirt sophomore from Wills Point who started five games at guard last year. He's bulked up a bit as well, which should help him avoid getting bullied inside. Charlie Vatterott bulked up as well, adding nearly 30 pounds this offseason. He and redshirt freshman Jaquel Pierce will compete for a guard slot. Vatterott played in parts of three games last season while Pierce played a lot in the sprig game if that's any indication of his value to the coaching staff.