Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Aggies' O-line adjusting to change
By Sam Khan Jr.
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- On the surface, it's easy to surmise that there will be plenty of continuity in Texas A&M's offensive line as it transitions into a new season.
Three of five starters return from what was the strongest position group on the team in 2012.
But just because a few familiar names are still around doesn't mean things are the same. There is plenty of change for the Aggies' front five this spring.
Of the quintet, only one player -- junior left guard Jarvis Harrison -- returns to the same position he was in a year ago. The rest of the offensive linemen are stepping into a new role, either as a returning starter in a new position or as a first-time starter.
Jake Matthews might have been a first-round draft choice if he had entered the 2013 NFL draft, but instead he will move to left tackle for his senior season.
After having what was arguably the best offensive tackle tandem in the country last year, the Aggies wave goodbye to one of them (Luke Joeckel, who declared for the NFL draft) and welcome back another in senior Jake Matthews.
Matthews spent last season at right tackle but has moved to left tackle, Joeckel's old spot, to protect Johnny Manziel's blind side. Taking Matthews' place at right tackle is the Cedric Ogbuehi, who started at right guard a season ago.
"They've become comfortable, I think, pretty quickly as far as their footwork goes," offensive line coach B.J. Anderson said of the tackle tandem. "What we're working now is all the little things. Right now, Jake's changed his post hand. It's his left hand when he's on the right side and now on the left side he has to change his post hand. We've got to work through the little things.
"Ced's the same way. There's a lot more grass out there when you play tackle. But he's long and athletic and he's done a nice job and we'll just keep working on those little things."
Since the 6-foot-5, 305-pound Matthews has excelled as a right tackle, there are high expectations for him as he moves to the left side. Ogbuehi was a tackle in high school, so the move outside is natural fit for him as well.
"The biggest change is that I'm going against faster dudes, my sets are different," Ogbuehi said. "Other than that, it's the same thing really.
"I was excited and also sad that Luke left. But it's a big change for me to show what I can do, because I'm athletic. Playing guard, I didn't really showcase that. Playing tackle is going to show what I can really do and also show that I'm versatile, that I can play guard and tackle."
While Harrison returns at left guard, the right guard will be new -- redshirt freshman Germain Ifedi. So far, the 6-5, 338 Ifedi has worked with the first team all spring and brings loads of potential with his large frame.
"He's coming along really fast," Ogbuehi said. "He's strong naturally. He's just straight girth. He's a freak."
The catalyst for the unit will be in the middle, just like it was a year ago. In 2012, Patrick Lewis received high praise from the coaching staff for the job he did. Now Matthews' younger brother, sophomore Mike Matthews, steps into the starting center role.
"He's doing a nice job," Anderson said. "I think in spring ball you start with a guy like Mike, with the targeting aspect. That's kind of what this spring is for he and I. He's got to gain some weight. I have to get his weight up where he can hold up in the Southeastern Conference. But his targeting with our offense and his communication with the line, I've been pleased with his progress."
Like the rest of the Matthews' family, Mike has plenty of talent. One thing he has to continue to work on that's critical to the Texas A&M offense is helping dictate its fast tempo.
"He's doing a nice job but it's not good enough right now," Anderson said. "He's making improvements day-to-day on pushing that tempo. It's not just going fast. You have to go fast and be targeted. We're seeing him get better and better at that. And it's not just him, it's the whole offense. We've all got to play faster. We expect that and I think by time we get to the end of spring ball, it'll be a good start going into that summer session."
With four players in different roles this spring, communication and chemistry is key. Anderson has been careful not to shuffle pieces with the first-team offensive line so that they can become a cohesive unit. He does see potential in his group, though.
"They've got a chance to be really good up front next year," he said. "They're going to have to put the work in to do it. We've got a long ways until we get there. We have the rest of spring ball and all of summer and fall camp. They're going to have to deserve to be a good front. So we'll see."
And one thing they won't forget is a golden rule they learned last year with Manziel as the quarterback.
"You can't stop blocking no matter what," Harrison said. "You don't stop blocking until the whistle blows because you don't know what he's going to do back there."