AUSTIN, Texas -- The thin, burnt-orange offensive line that has broken apart and allowed Texas to be pushed from good to bad is supposed to be fixed this time around.
Stacy Searels, who has long bemoaned the lack of talent, bodies and blocking ability of his charges along that line, has earned the praise of Texas coach Mack Brown, not only for Searels' patience but also his persistence in rebuilding that line.
"He didn't know until he got here there were only seven scholarship guys that were going through spring practice," Brown said. "He has done a tremendous job of reloading our offensive line."
Reloading might not be the right word to use there, as such a term leads one to believe the line was recently loaded. It has been several seasons since that argument could be made. Texas hasn’t produced an NFL lineman since 2008. Prior to that, Brown’s program had seven offensive linemen drafted over a nine-year span -- a healthy number and one that exceeds the production of Alabama and Oklahoma over the same time period.
So Searels has been more pouring a foundation than restocking the shelves. And now the time has come to find out if there are cracks or if Texas is ready to build on a solid base.
Heading into 2013, the offensive line has all five starters returning. Four of those players were also starters on the 2011 offensive line, while the fifth, Donald Hawkins, came in as a junior college transfer after that season. Those starters did have less-than-stellar performances throughout 2012, however, and, quite frankly, were shoved around by TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State and a few other teams.
Texas, with its loaded backfield, averaged 3.4 rushing yards per attempt against the six ranked opponents it played in 2012. Against TCU, Oklahoma and Kansas State, the Longhorns failed to reach 100 yards rushing and averaged 3.0 rushing yards per attempt.
It's safe to assume those types of numbers have not exactly locked down a starting job for every player who started along that offensive line. To that end, Texas does have a potential new tackle waiting in the wings in the form of junior college transfer Desmond Harrison.
His arrival should signal some shifts along the line at every position, save for Josh Cochran at the opposite tackle spot.
"He [Cochran] is a tackle, so you'd leave him there," Brown said. "But the fact that Trey Hopkins has played everywhere, Donald Hawkins could play different places, guard or tackle, just gives you a lot more flexibility for depth. [Sedrick] Flowers would be a center or guard. You wouldn't move him outside. But you have flexibility and you have to look at that great freshman class coming in, too, to see if any of those guys are ready to play."
Texas signed five offensive linemen in its 2013 class and could play at least one of those. Darius James, who was ranked No. 17 in the ESPN 150, appears to be the odds-on favorite to be that player. He could fill in at the guard spot and also has some center in his background.
Since Texas wants to average about 84 plays per game, it is not unreasonable to believe that up to 10 linemen could see time in each game. To believe that Texas had that many linemen available in the past would have been a ludicrous assumption.
Even last season, Texas could barely go beyond six offensive linemen. But given the emergence of Kennedy Estelle (tackle) and Flowers (guard), plus the improved health of Camrhon Hughes (tackle), the arrival of Harrison and James makes a deeper rotation at least a plausible thought.
"I really think that we can have two-deep, and that will be the first time we have been two-deep around here in a long time," Brown said. "And I think we are -- I know we are headed in the right direction with our depth in the offensive line."