Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Position breakdown: Offensive line
By Sam Khan Jr.
In a matter of months, former Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel could be hearing his name be among the first called by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the NFL draft.
Jake Matthews' return to College Station for his senior season calmed a lot of Texas A&M nerves.
And while Joeckel (and teammate Damontre Moore, who is also projected to be a high-first round pick) will make Aggies everywhere proud, it's the offensive tackle that didn't enter the draft who has Texas A&M fans breathing a little easier when it comes to 2013.
When soon-to-be senior Jake Matthews announced in January that he was returning for one more season in Aggieland, it was music to the Aggies' ears. Not only does it keep the Aggies from losing two premier starting tackles, but it also helps fill the void left by Joeckel, as Matthews will shift from the right tackle spot he has long played to left tackle to protect the blindside of Johnny Manziel when spring football practice starts on March 2.
Other than the play of the Heisman Trophy-winning Manziel himself, it could be argued that the play of the Aggies' offensive line was the most vital to Texas A&M's success, as the Aggies went 11-2 in their first year as SEC members. The front five was experienced as a whole, stayed healthy and started all 13 games.
Three of those five return as Joeckel enters the draft and center Patrick Lewis graduates. And while the void left by Joeckel is taken care of by Matthews, Lewis might be as difficult -- or even more so -- to replace, considering how important his role was.
Fortunately for the Aggies, there's another Matthews in the pipeline ready to step in: Jake's younger brother Mike Matthews.
Mike did not redshirt as a true freshman last season, instead serving as the backup to Lewis and appearing in seven games. Prior to the 2012 season, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said that he didn't want to redshirt Matthews in order to give him a taste of traveling and playing in other SEC venues since he would likely be the starter after Lewis graduated.
So after a season of grooming, the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder will likely step into the lead role in the middle heading into spring drills.
And while Matthews slides over from right tackle to left, it appears Cedric Ogbuehi will slide out to right tackle to replace him. The 6-5, 295-pound Ogbuehi spent last season at right guard, but certainly has the look of a tackle and was originally recruited as a tackle when he signed with Texas A&M. That transition and how Ogbuehi fares will be worth watching.
Jarvis Harrison is the third returning starter on the offensive line. The 6-4, 320-pounder will be a junior this fall and having 13 starts under his belt after being primarily a backup in 2011 can only help.
That leaves one area that appears up for grabs: right guard. Ben Compton finished the season as the man behind Ogbuehi on the depth chart at that position, so look for the Friendswood, Texas, product to be in the mix. Houston Westside product Germain Ifedi has great size (6-5, 338) and could be an option at that position in the spring as well after redshirting as a true freshman last year.
Other players who could get a look at that position might include Shep Klinke, who appeared in five games as a junior, and Kimo Tipoti (6-3, 320) who redshirted in his true freshman season.
Another key returnee on the offensive line who could find himself in the mix somewhere is tackle Joseph Cheek, who saw some playing time as a redshirt freshman last year. Cheek was often used as a tackle in short-yardage situations in the Aggies' "unbalanced line" package, which included a third tackle instead of a tight end to help gain tough yards in the running game. He was Jake Matthews' primary backup at right tackle a year ago. Nathan Gutekunst also returns for his redshirt sophomore season after seeing action in more than half of A&M's games last year.
From the 2013 recruiting class, City College of San Francisco tackle Jeremiah Stuckey will be the only offensive lineman to join the Aggies for spring ball. After spending one year at the junior college, the 6-foot-6, 280-pound tackle has three years of eligibility left but has four to play them in, so he can redshirt if need be. Guard Joas Aguilar (North Richland Hills, Texas/Birdville) and tackle Ishmael Wilson (Dallas/Bishop Dunne) will arrive in the summer.