Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Lessons from spring: OL is deep
By Sam Khan Jr.
The last two seasons, Texas A&M hasn't had to tap deep into its offensive line because the Aggies have had good fortune health-wise at the position.
In 2012, the Aggies had the same starting five offensive linemen for all 13 games and in 2013, they had the same starting five for 11 of their 13 games, missing only tackle Cedric Ogbuehi for two games in the middle of the season.
But with left guard Jarvis Harrison sitting out the spring while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, the Aggies were able to see that they do have quality depth on their offensive line should they need it.
Harrison's absence made way for two players to find their way into the lineup with the first team this spring: Garrett Gramling and Joseph Cheek.
Texas A&M returns four of five starters from 2013: Ogbuehi, Harrison, center Mike Matthews and right guard Germain Ifedi. The right tackle spot is open for competition and though the spring began with junior college transfers Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor competing for the position, the majority of the spring saw Ifedi manning that spot.
With Ifedi shifted over and Harrison out, that left the two guard spots open, which both Gramling and Cheek ably filled during spring drills.
Offensive line coach B.J. Anderson made it clear during spring football that "we're not earning any jobs right now" and that his players were focusing on technique and fundamentals. Still, Ifedi established himself as a candidate to be the future right tackle and Gramling -- who started at left guard the two games Ogbuehi was out while Harrison played left tackle -- has positioned himself to compete for a starting guard job.
"I've got Joe Cheek over at the right guard and Garrett at the left guard and you add Jarvis to that mix and there's three guys for those two positions," Anderson said. "We'll find out who wins it in fall camp."
Eluemunor spent most of the spring working at guard and Gennesy at tackle and Anderson wanted both to get comfortable in their new surroundings. He also noted that both were training at both right guard and right tackle.
"I think that's important," Anderson said. "They need to do be able to do both in case we get into an injury scenario."
Ogbuehi, who played right tackle last year, spent the spring getting acclimated to the left side of the offensive line. He felt good about his progress from the first spring practice to the last one on April 5.
"I feel a lot better," Ogbuehi said. "I feel better than I was last year at right tackle."
Matthews, who is entering his junior season at center, will be a steady presence for the Aggies in the middle.
"Mike has total control of the offense," Anderson said.
The standard this group has to live up to is a high one. The last two seasons, the Aggies have been considered one of the country's best offensive lines, paving the way for a top-10 offense and protecting quarterback Johnny Manziel. It's a unit that produced the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft (Luke Joeckel) and likely will produce another top-10 pick next month (Jake Matthews). Even SEC fans are picking the Aggies to be the league's best unit this season.
Though it remains to be seen how this group develops, there certainly is no shortage of options for the Aggies up front.