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Thursday, March 6, 2014
Position battles to watch: Offensive guard

By Max Olson

Editor's note: This is the fourth part of a weeklong series breaking down Texas’ most important spring position battles when the Longhorns begin practice in two weeks.

Moving on: It’s entirely possible no BCS program had a more experienced duo of offensive guards in 2013 than Texas. Mason Walters started 51 of his 52 career games at right guard. Trey Hopkins started 42 career games, 28 of them at left guard and 14 at right tackle, and twice earned All-Big 12 honors.

Sedrick Flowers
Sedrick Flowers is the most experienced of Texas' guard options, having played every game in 2013.
The contenders: The guys ready to take over for those two longtime starters have a combined one career start among them. That one belongs to Sedrick Flowers, the most experienced of these interior lineman. He started at left guard in the Valero Alamo Bowl against Oregon.

Sophomore Curtis Riser earned limited playing time in 2014, as did junior Taylor Doyle. Touted recruits Darius James and Rami Hammad both redshirted as freshmen, and true freshman Alex Anderson enrolled early in January.

Moving forward: The Joe Wickline factor is strong with this group. Texas’ respected new offensive line coach says he’s simply looking to find the five best offensive linemen and piece together his lineup this spring, and he’ll bring fresh eyes and a new perspective when it comes to which of these guards can help this Texas line in 2014.

Flowers would seem to be the favorite to land a starting gig after playing in all 13 games last season. By the end of his sophomore year, Flowers was respected as a trusted backup by Walters and Hopkins, and both agreed he’d be worthy of taking their place this fall. But he’ll have to earn that spot, and the competition should be strong.

The rest of Texas’ guards have potential, but only two of them have even seen the field. Riser appeared in four games last season, and Doyle saw action in two contests.

The guys most fans will be watching this spring are James and Hammad. The former was one of the nation’s best offensive line recruits a year ago but took a redshirt because he was out of shape. That time off should help him better prepare for playing at this level. Hammad came close to earning a spot in the lineup in the middle of the 2013 season, but he went down with a season-ending injury and should be healthy this spring.

Anderson, a New Orleans native, arrived in Austin with a chip on his shoulder and should benefit from getting in early. He could be a sleeper challenger in this group.

Another possibility to keep in mind: Wickline likes to cross-train his offensive linemen at several positions, so he’ll likely try out several other Longhorns at the guard spots to see if he can find a fit. Don’t be surprised if someone like Kent Perkins, a sophomore, proves he can handle such a move and challenges for a spot this fall.

Prediction: I can tell you right now that Flowers and Hammad seem like the safest bets to win jobs, but a lot can change this spring. Wickline will try to instill a certain mentality with his offensive line this season: Your job is on the line every single week. Whoever the favorites are after spring, they’ll have to fight every day to keep their spots.