Much of the focus this off-season has been on how the starting quarterback will perform, or whether the receivers will make plays, or which running back will have the best year. Well guess what, none of that matters if the offensive line doesnâ€™t play well. And for an offensive line coming off a year where they gave up a total of 28 sacks for 242 yards, they have much to prove and improve (in retrospect, the SEC bound Aggies gave up a total of 9 sacks for 44 yards last year. Thatâ€™s impressive for any school). In defense of the O-line, there was a new position coach, Stacy Searels. And the new coach barely had enough scholarship players to form a starting unit with back ups at each position. But luckily for the Horns improvement is exactly what should happen. Four of the five starters either have experience at their position or have started there in the past. And the remaining starter, Juco transfer LT Donald Hawkins, has already meshed well with the rest of the unit and looks as if he will be the solution to what was once a question mark at Left Tackle. And considering that there isnâ€™t a single senior in the starting unit, this unit could potentially become one of the best offensive lines we have seen in the past few years.
Left Tackle: Donald Hawkins â€“ JUCO transfer who has been flashing greatness as he learns the offense.
Left Guard: Trey Hopkins â€“ move back inside to guard where he is better suited.
Center: Dominic Espinosa â€“ Looks to be the weakest link of the offense but was thrown into the fire last season as a freshman and should improve.
Right Guard: Mason Walters â€“ arguably the best linemen on the team, he will be the leader and anchor.
Right Tackle: Josh Cochran â€“ Won the starting tackle job late last season as a freshman and should be locked in as the starter for at-least this season and next.
Thomas Ashcraft, Kennedy Estelle, Sedrick Flowers, Luke Poehlmann, Garrett Porter.
During Mack Brownâ€™s press conference a few days ago he stated there were still two main weaknesses with the depth chart. The first was at the tight end position. But the second was with the depth at offensive line. Mack singled out Thomas Ashcraft as the only reserve he was really confident sending into the game. Where as the other reserve linemen still need to gain Brownâ€™s trust and confidence before he feels comfortable with the depth behind the starting unit.
Letâ€™s take a look at the reserves to try to understand why Mack feels this way.
As I stated earlier, Thomas Ashcroft is the only reserve Mack Brown has singled out as the back-up linemen he has the most confidence and trust in. Whether there are injuries or not, having multiple reserves you can count on to spell the starters or play in their place is key to an O-lineâ€™s success.
Kennedy Estelle â€“ Itâ€™s understandable that Mack could still have some question marks for Kennedy Estelle. Though Estelle is a four star recruit and a mammoth standing at 6â€™7â€ and weighing 300 lbs, he is a true freshman. The fact that he is even on the depth chart and listed as the reserve at Left Tackle gives me confidence that though Estelle may still need work he has shown signs that he can be a talented lineman down the line.
Sedrick Flowers â€“ Currently listed as the reserve at Left Guard, Iâ€™m really hoping Flowers turns it up soon. He is a bit undersized to play on the outside but his 6â€™3â€ frame should be able to handle the guard duties where he is listed. There was some positive buzz around Flowers during the off-season but what concerns me is that Sedrick has already had a year with the team and Mack still has question marks for Flowers. The doubts could mean he still is struggling with consistency or to learn the new blocking assignments. But he was dominant in high school and has been working hard in the weight room to increase his weight from 280 lbs when he stepped on campus to his current 313 lbs. I think he can take the next step in his performance early in the season and become a viable reserve.
Garret Porter â€“ Once a red-shirt freshman, Porter is entering his fourth year as a Longhorn. But the 2009 recruit has yet to show any indication he is capable of starting. He is listed as the reserve at center but was not always seeing snaps as the immediate reserve. Instead Mason Walters has also seen snaps as the reserve center. Porter was a four-star recruit from Odessa but still hasnâ€™t put it all together. I admit that I will be a bit nervous if Porter is called upon to start at Center for a large portion of the season.
Luke Poehlmann – A three-star recruit from the 2008 class, Poehlmann has seen action on the offensive line and at the TE position mainly in blocking situations. I like Poehlmannâ€™s versatility to play Tackle or TE but his weakness is that he is decent at both positions but not great at one of them. Though he has the experience to handle a starting role, he would struggle with a larger DE/DT due to his 275lb size.
The depth behind the starting unit is full of in-experience, youth, and some simple lack of talent. Iâ€™m confident with all of the starters on the line, though Dominic Espinosa is currently the weakest link with that unit. But if he, or any of the linemen go down with an injury donâ€™t be surprised if offensive-line coach Stacy Searels moves guys around and changes up the line up.Â His coaching philosophy involves placing linemen in different positions across the line during practice, and that philosophy is part of what makes him one of the best coaches at his position in the country. Much talk has been about the quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers, but the success of the team this season also relies very muchÂ on the growth, improvement and health of this offensive line and the depth that lies behind it.