COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- In the SEC, there's no shortage of quality defensive linemen. And most of them are big, fast and physical.
Texas A&M offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said one of the first things he notices about SEC defenses is "the violence" those units play with.
So as the Aggies embark on their first season in the league, it seems fitting that the strength of their offense lies with the offensive line.
The unit returns 95 total starts among the group, 92 of which come from the quintet listed first on the depth chart at each position. The junior tandem of tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews is one of the nation's best and the Aggies also have tons of experience at center with Patrick Lewis, who has started 35 consecutive games.
But just because the group has plenty of playing time under its belt doesn't mean there hasn't been an adjustment period for the unit. Like the rest of the Aggies' offense, the linemen have had to become accustomed to playing at the high tempo that is the signature of coach Kevin Sumlin's and Kingsbury's offense.
"Spring was tough," offensive line coach B.J. Anderson said. "(Director of sports performance) Larry Jackson as y'all know, he's as good as there is. Coming out of the summer program as a staff, we're really pleased now with how they're executing the tempo. We've got to keep getting better, but for three days of insertion, we're pleased."
The biggest adjustment has arguably been for Lewis, a three-year starter from Reserve (La.) East St. John. The 6-foot-2, 312 Lewis has not just had to adjust to the tempo of the offense, but also additional responsibilities when it comes to calling protections.
Lewis said it has taken time, but he has gotten better with time and repetition.
"It's pretty difficult," Lewis said. "I have to make sure the points go out, make sure the running back knows who they're blocking, make sure the offensive line knows who we're working to and it's a big communication deal as far as making sure everybody knows who they're blocking. The fast tempo it all kind of gets to you. It's real mind-boggling at first but then you settle down, you get the hang of it and then it's a walk in the park."
The competition at guard will be worth keeping an eye on. It appears that Ogbuehi will figure in as the starting right guard, a spot where he started as a redshirt freshman in 2011. At left guard, Harrison and Klinke are battling, but Klinke had the benefit of 15 spring practices, while Harrison sat out with an injury. Sumlin said Klinke had "a solid spring" but that he's also happy to see the 6-4 Harrison back on the field during camp.
"Jarvis coming back adds some real mass and girth in there at 330 or whatever he is, but he's behind," Sumlin said. "You can tell the 15 practices that he missed in the spring, the other guys have moved on. And with a knee injury, and a guy that big, conditioning is always a factor. He's got to get to where he needs to be from a conditioning standpoint and from a mental standpoint so that he can play. We're working hard at that but I'm definitely glad to get him back."Icon SMI
Texas A&M gets a solid pair of tackles including LT Luke Joeckel.
Matthews said he and Joeckel pushed each other this summer.
"I love going against him," Matthews said of Joeckel, a first-team All-Big 12 selection last year. "I always want to work out with him, run with him, we're always pushing each other. So going against him is one of the biggest things that helped me these past few summers, especially this last one with coach Jackson and the emphasis on high tempo and always moving. He's just a guy, just a good buddy, a good guy to workout with and we both learn a lot from each other and he's beneficial to have."
There is also young talent waiting in the wings. Sophomore center Ben Compton will get to work at guard during fall camp and the three true freshmen: Germain Ifedi, Mike Matthews and Kimo Tipoti, are receiving praise from coaches and players alike.
"Germain, first of all, that guy's bigger than ever," Jake Matthews said. "He's huge. He's going to be a great player, he just needs to understand the game a little more, get to know the offense better. Kimo, him too, big guy, great feet, the main thing with all of them is just getting comfortable. They all just have to get used to this offense and realize what it takes to go at this tempo."
Mike Matthews, the younger brother of Jake Matthews, looks like he'll get the chance to be the team's backup center this season, according to Sumlin. With Lewis being a senior, Sumlin wants someone ready to step into that role next season.
"My feeling is, a year from now with Pat being gone ... that if (Mike Matthews) can handle it, I'd rather him travel and be the backup center and play in games and have three years to start as a center than have a brand new center next year who has never been in a game and do that," Sumlin said. "There's some people who would say that's crazy but I think if you start in the SEC for three years at his position, that's pretty d--- good."