I saved this for last for the same reason that I clean my house, do various home improvement projects, and call to catch up with people I haven't talked to since 10th grade before I sit down to do my taxes. Uncertainty about the damage you'll find once you start digging deep is procrastination's midwife.
Before we bathe in pessimistic bath salts like a stressed out hussy in a Calgon commercial, let's be clear: we don't have an OL problem. We have an OT problem. The interior OL looks solid. Potentially very good. Of course, there is a reason that NFL OTs get paid 3X interior OL...
I'd like to break up the grouping neatly into OT, OG, C, but how we choose to play some hinge guys and injury will greatly influence our starting composition. Let's see if we can piece it together with the proviso that our own coaches have no exact idea who our starting five are, least of all an understanding of where they'll be playing:
Tray Allen - 5th year senior
Tre Hopkins - 2nd year sophomore
Paden Kelley - 3rd year sophomore
Luke Poehlmann - 3rd year junior
Garrett Greenlea - true freshman
Josh Cochran - true freshman
Taylor Doyle - true freshman
Mason Walters - 3rd year sophomore
Thomas Ashcraft - 3rd year sophomore
Sedrick Flowers - true freshman
Kyle Kriegel - 3rd year sophomore
Mark Buchanan - 4th year
David Snow - 4th year senior
Garrett Porter - 3rd year sophomore
Dominic Espinosa - 2nd year freshman
Tray Allen is a 5th year senior and the team's best candidate for the Russell Gaskamp Award (which goes to the senior who comes through with a clutch final campaign after four years of Gatorade drinking). Tray has a NFL body and good athleticism but want-to, injury and - some will contend - not being given a fair chance to compete - have plagued him. Allen hasn't been all that self-motivated, which was first hinted at when I saw him dominated in a high school All-Star game by middling talents and I first predicted he wouldn't be the multi-year starter everyone assumed. Tray can play both tackle and guard and where he plays will depend on a Rubik's cube range of combinations, but if he wants to take matters into his own hands, excelling at OT is the easiest path to a triumphant senior season. I'm pulling for him in a big way.
Trey Hopkins can play every position on the OL, started games for us as a true freshman, and will start for us this year at guard (most likely) or tackle. He's fantastic in space as a pulling guard, but as a second year player he hasn't grown into his body quite enough to be a consistent mauler in the pits though he has a great get off. Trey has an exciting future and if you get him on the move, he can be very dynamic in the running and bootleg game. Throw in that Trey is a model student and citizen and recognize that he basically had to self-recruit to Texas and you have some hint about how just how broken our evaluation system was.
Paden Kelley has a high probability of starting at OT though that's contingent on some our combo guys. Kelley has a naturally lean build (which is an amusing description for a 6-7, 305 dude) and that means good things for his motor and cardio, but it compromises his base. I'll expand on this in another post, but basically playing OT is a game of lateral movement and technique balanced against your base - you're ability to hold your ground. Kelley has solid natural mobility, but he has to overcompensate by anchoring himself to overcome a high and deficient base. The more you anchor, the more you lunge. The less you anchor, the more likely you'll be bull-rushed. The end result is unsteady performance. As he matures and grows in the weight room this can be compensated for (a high school injury put him behind in the weight room). Kelley wants to be good and that can't be underestimated.
Luke Poehlmann has a very similar physical profile to Paden Kelley - high natural base, lack of anchor, aggression, amazing flowing hair that should be featured in a Prell commercial. At 6-7, 280, he's a lean cat and that's reflected in his high energy level and athleticism. Poehlmann is a coming off of an injury and he's a tremendous X factor for this OL. Is he an answer as our third tackle? This training camp will tell us more about Poehlmann than any other player on the offense.
I've been predicting big things for Garrett Greenlea since I saw his high school tape and I'm sticking to my guns though Garrett blew out his knee and then contracted mono in his first days of camp. Seriously? Can the guy not catch a break? The true freshman is a big time talent with a frame that screams NFL. I expected him to contribute heavily this year, but that has been thrown off of the rails. Expect a bright future if we can get him to stop walking under ladders across black cat paths.
Josh Cochran and Taylor Doyle are true freshman who aren't as far along as Greenlea at this stage of their development. Redshirt and revisit.
I consider Mason Walters a starting guard with a slight reservation, as the coaches have dabbled with him outside and if Walters shows any facility for OT, he's starting there. Walters is an athletic 3rd year player and a fantastic inside pairing to Trey Hopkins with respect to athleticism. He's nothing but good weight at a jacked 6-5.5, 305, he plays with some attitude, and no player will benefit more from playing in real schemes than Mason.
If guard Thomas Ashcraft really comes on, then Searels has a real chance to create depth, competition and vitality at OT. Ashcraft has an extremely powerful lower body and he's a mauler inside, but his lack of lateral mobility may mean that a philosophical move towards a counter/trap/boot/combo block offense may not play to his strengths. He's certainly a key reserve, at minimum.
Sedrick Flowers, like Garrett Greenlea, is an immensely talented freshman with good early development. However, he hasn't been plagued with Biblical scourges. It's not inconceivable that he ends up #2 on the depth chart at guard by the end of August. Put him against Kheeston Randall and let's see where he is.
Kyle Kriegel is now on the OL as I predicted in his senior season of high school and I like him long term if he can put on the weight. For a tall kid, he has great hip flexion and really gets a low pad level. If he can gain 30 pounds of good weight and maintain that flexibility, we're cooking with gas. Give him some time and patience.
Mark Buchanan should provide depth. If he is passed by Sedrick Flowers at OG, then his gridiron destiny is written.
David Snow has started 19 games for us at center and he's a good football player. He'll be a stabilizing force inside making line calls and I expect good play overall, but just how good he is will determine whether he's a solid college player or has a future in the League. Similarly, the trio of Snow, Walters, Hopkins inside is an athletic mix that allows you to do some things in the trap and counter game that can really force an opposing defense to play on their heels.
Garrett Porter is one of the tallest centers I've ever seen, but he gets low enough to make it work. Not athletic enough to play tackle, Porter will fight for reps in the interior line as a combo inside guy and fighting Espinosa as Snow's successor.
Dominic Espinosa is a classic center bulldog build with a pit bull attitude. Not exactly a Trey Hopkins type of athlete, but loves to mash and revels in the physical aspects of the game. He's a redshirt freshman and I don't think a great deal can be expected of him yet, but he's legit.
The good news is that with new blood at coordinator and OL coach, even a young, moderately talented, shallow group can perform. Schemes and development matter and there's no place - other than QB - that's more coaching intensive than the OL. What we'd been doing here to cripple these players and how we evaluate talent has been a crime since we left the zone read. After a rough patch, I expect bright days ahead.
We've got plenty of bodies here and real quality at some positions, but the play of our OTs is a huge question mark. However, it's important for UT fans to appreciate that real schemes are designed to hide deficiency and that we're not going to roll out game plans where the QB throws the ball 60 times in a four wide set while opposing DEs line up in a track stance with six defensive backs behind them. Play action, the running game, max protection, screens, draws - these are all the OT's friend.
I'm not whistling past the graveyard. We are a work in progress, we will have some games that will be hard to watch offensively, but I haven't been this optimistic about our long term commitment to OL play since we started Vincent Paul Young at QB and put in the zone read.