Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Taking Inventory: The Offensive Line

If you ever hear someone say "it all starts upfront", they either know their football or they are just repeating what someone else who knows their football had previously said. You might see teams succeed from time to time lacking in certain areas, but offensive line is never one of them. Their control over the line of scrimmage (or lack thereof) sets the tone for the game, they are the force behind a strong running game and the security that enables a strong passing game.

Last season, TCU's stellar offensive front powered the Frogs to nearly 250 rushing yards a game while giving up just 9 sacks all year. Gone from the 2010 squad are full- or part-time starters Marcus Cannon, Jake Kirkpatrick, Josh Vernon and Zach Roth. The relative inexperience of their replacements makes offensive line one of the team's largest question marks heading into the season, but there is still a ton (or more accurately, just short of three tons) of talent left on the roster.

Starting outside, the first-team tackles appear to be senior Jeff Olson (6-4, 300) on the right side and sophomore James Dunbar (6-6, 305) at left tackle. Olson, who originally came to TCU from McKinney North as a tight end, started four games (including the blowout of Utah on the road) in place of Roth at right tackle last year, and is seen as a leader of the OL unit. Dunbar, who played in all 13 games last year, is a member of the "Maud Squad" trio that signed with TCU in 2009. Frogs play-by-play announcer Brian Estridge once picked him as the next major NFL prospect offensive lineman from TCU.

Pushing both Olson and Dunbar for a starting spot will be sophomore Ty Horn (6-5, 320), who is the heaviest Frog offensive lineman. Horn was seen as a major recruiting win at the time of his signing, and he played in 8 games last year as a redshirt freshman. Right now, he's listed as Olson's backup on the right side. Providing further depth will be junior Trevius Jones (6-3, 310) and redshirt freshman Nykiren Wellington (6-6, 275). Jones was a very sought-after recruit coming out of Tyler Lee, but has yet to really make an impact at TCU, appearing in just 4 games so far. Wellington was reportedly very impressive in practice last fall while he redshirted, but he missed most of the spring with an injury. A wild card at tackle may be sophomore Tayo Fabuluje (6-7, 317), who transferred to TCU from BYU during the offseason. He's apparently applying for a waiver from the NCAA to allow him to play immediately instead of waiting a year like most transfers do, and as is almost always the case with the NCAA there's no real expectation of when a decision might be made. The current roster on gofrogs.com lists Tayo as a defensive tackle, but his frame just screams OT and the media guide lists him there as well.

At left guard, senior Kyle Dooley (6-3, 315) is the most experienced on the line, having made 27 career starts dating back to his redshirt freshman season. Starting opposite Dooley on the right side is likely to be junior Blaize Foltz (6-4, 310), who started two games as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and then played in five games a year ago before suffering a season-ending injury from which he is now reportedly 100% recovered. Senior Spencer Thompson (6-5, 305), who has been with the program since he graduated early from high school in 2006, is the most experienced reserve guard, having played in 23 career games including three starts last year. Joining Thompson on the second team is sophomore John Wooldridge (6-5, 310), a product of Houston's Episcopal High who played in six games last year as a redshirt freshman.

The last two starting centers at TCU (Blake Schlueter and Jake Kirkpatrick) have set the expectations pretty high for whoever is in the middle of the Horned Frog line. That job now belongs to junior James Fry (6-3, 290), who won a hotly-contested battle for the position during spring practice. Fry was second string to Kirkpatrick last year as he won the Rimington Award, and appeared in nine games himself. The two other centers pushing Fry for his job are sophomore Eric Tausch (6-3, 295) and redshirt freshman Michael Thompson (6-4, 315). Tausch appeared in six games as a guard last year, and Thompson was specifically singled-out by Patterson as the member of the 2010 signing class that he was most excited to see arrive on campus. One or both of them could probably also provide depth at guard if needed.

Four true freshman will suit up for the Frogs this fall, although it is Patterson's (and most of college football's) strategy to redshirt almost all offensive lineman. Off the top of my head, the last true freshman O-lineman to play for TCU was Marshall Newhouse in 2006. Nevertheless, the optimist in me says lookout for these guys once they put on the purple and white. Brady Foltz (6-4, 300...Blaize's younger brother) and Jamelle Naff (6-4, 311) project as guards, while Bobby Thompson (6-6, 290) and Carter Wall (6-5, 290) look like they'll be tackles in college.

Coach Patterson mentioned at the Dallas Alumni dinner last week that offensive line is one of the areas causing him some concern headed into the fall...how worried are you about it? Who will emerge as stars of this year's line, and which of the younger guys do you see developing into stardom in the years to come? Comments section. Go.


Spit Purple said...

How much does it concern me? A whole freaking lot. In fact, I'm more worried about our o-line than any other group. Fortunately over the last few years we've shown the ability to replace a lot of experienced players without huge trouble, but it's been a long time since we've had an inexperienced line protecting an inexperienced QB.

I think we all expect the running game to be strong and take a lot of pressure off Pachall but unless the big uglies come together that won't happen. It doesn't matter how many good backs we have. With Baylor's move to the 4-2-5 I expect these guys to be tested often in the opener.

Hopefully regardless of the system change and coaching change - was SMU's defense good under Bennett?- Baylor's D will still suck and our guys can ease into the season.

SuperSweet HornedFrog said...

its concerns me more than a run in with a questionable woman ill tell you that much

VikingFrog said...

For some reason I'm not as concerned about the O-Line although I probably should be. Everybody keeps commenting on the fact that we are not doing much recruiting at O-Line which leads me to think that maybe the coaching staff isn't as worried about some of these younger guys as we are.

Although I think we did miss out on a couple of high talent O-Linemen that ended up going elsewhere if I'm not mistaken.

Either way, I really know nothing about offensive lines other than the fact that Sandra Bullock is good at coddling them into NFL players. So you should probably just not pay attention to me.

LA Frog said...

Guards: Blaize will come back strong from injury. His brother, Brady, will be an up-and-comer with GP and Blaize on his butt. I also hope the back-up centers (Tausch and Thompson) can help out here as well.

Slay Purple said...

Eddie Williamson really does a great job with our OL. It is going to be tough to replace 4 starters, but I feel like all of their replacements have seen plenty of game time during mop-up time (i.e., Baylor).

They are going against the same DL in practice that GP has been praising, practicing against a more complex and sophisticated 4-2-5 defense than Baylor could ever come up with, and know what a great O-line looks like (i.e., TCU for the past 3 years).

Lyle Lanley said...

One thing I failed to mention in the original post is just how amazing it is that Dooley was originally a walk-on.

Tanner said...

i think if there are deficiencies, GP will scheme around them whenever possible and then possibly unleash PAWHAW, burn em with the post route, as it were.

seriously though, he will gameplan around whatever is wrong with any aspect.

Texas Hammer said...

Adding to Olson's street cred - apparently this cat just got engaged to a DALLAS COWBOYS CHEERLEADER!

Bravo, young man. Bravo.


Reed said...

we should chant "craig james sucks" during the smu game

BigFrogBall said...

Its Texas Hammer Time.