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Dominic Espinosa named to Rimington Watch List

The Longhorn center has a chance to change opinions.

Cooper Neill

The junior center was named to the Rimington Award watch list, largely on the strength of his 26 career starts. Seniority and familiarity are often the basis for these watch lists - particularly for offensive linemen who don't put up easily accessible individual statistics.

While many Longhorn fans recall Espinosa's early struggles (and can point cynically to Chris Hall sharing a similar preseason watch list honor in 2009), Espinosa has taken positive strides as a starting center since being pressed into far-too-early action as a redshirt freshman.

In fact, Espinosa's developmental timeline may now actually have the chance to catch up to his expected play.

I'll explain...

In 2011, a redshirt freshman Espinosa, pressed into play a full two years before any healthy program would play him, and unable to participate in offseason conditioning due to a shoulder injury (he missed the entire Spring and couldn't lift in the Summer), was the Longhorn opening day starting center, pushing less weight then what he could manage as a high school senior. That's not good. He struggled - as you'd expect. And the internet was vocal. Blaming the player is the easy out - I placed my ire on a program that had failed in O-line development for half a decade (see draft, National Football League).

I offered some context before last season, reminding overly critical Longhorn fans that Espinosa wouldn't be seeing the field until THIS YEAR, much less 2012, in a healthy program.

In 2011, the redshirt freshman became a strange exercise in group psychology as a segment of the Longhorn fan base assigned him as the repository of all OL woe. While I wrote about Espinosa's problems against a quality nose tackle heads up as early as the BYU game, the meme became so pervasive (on an OL full of flaws getting no help from the skill positions or audibles) and oft-bleated that I realized we'd entered some sort of context-free Twilight Zone. Please allow me to offer some...

Please compile a list of redshirt freshman centers famous for mauling their way through college football. I'll wait while you Google because you don't know any off of the top of your head. And I don't either, because that's the point. Now if any of them became 10 year NFL starters, college All-Americans, or won the Outland at some point in their careers, throw them out. All one of them.

So we have a 2nd year freshman, who after missing the entire Spring with a shoulder injury, plays the one position that puts an OL at the greatest disadvantage physically from the guy across from him, while being asked to call out the line adjustments, and is then asked to move a 6-1, 305 pound, 23 year old Polynesian who can squat his village, keying hard on run because our offense passes like Mr Magoo on the highway. Recipe for success, IMHO.

Espinosa did take significant strides from a rough 2011 to a more productive 2012. Although he still has work to do when heads-up on a shaded nose both in the running game and in pass protection, he's strong in space, he's very good working laterally to seal on the outside zone, and he's agile enough to snap the ball, pull, and lead inside. This season, he'll be particularly instrumental in holding a quick set pocket against immediate pressure inside from DL and blitzing linebackers. And should we put in some trap/draw action, he'll excel.

How his positive attributes are rewarded in our "new" offense remain to be seen. As is his ability to overcome some of his deficiencies through physical maturation, experience, and scheme. But this will be the first season where Espinosa's developmental timeline actually puts him on a level playing field against his peers.

Hook 'em.