The Plug Uglies. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Alas, we've reached the end of our way-too-early look at the 2012 roster, and we hope you've enjoyed taking a look at who will actually be playing football in under nine months. Tomorrow we'll put it all together, but the long and short of it is that we ended 2011 with 67 non-graduating scholarship players. How the remaining spots will be filled rests by Coach O'Brien and staff, and their hopefully relentless push to the February 1st Signing Day, is anyone's guess.
Today we take a look at the offensive line, a position so hard to predict that the two deep you see below will most likely end up being completely wrong by September 1. There are highly-touted recruits yet to make an impact after a few years in the program (Eric Shrive), highly-touted recruits on the edge of perceived greatness (Donovan Smith), and a whole host of others in between.
With Mac McWhorter now in the fold, the offensive line has just one coach to answer to, a marked change from the 2011 regime that saw Dick Anderson coaching the guards and centers, while Bill Kenney coached the tackles and tight ends. McWhorter saw varied levels of success at Texas, where he won a national championship in 2005 and was named the Assistant Coach of the Year in 2008 by the American Football Coaches Association, but was essentially run out of town after a couple of down years by Longhorn standards.
First things first, the cupboard:
It's not coincidence that every single lineman has used their redshirt. Offensive linemen are terribly difficult to project, and almost always require at least a year learning the playbook, working towards proper weights, etc.
Further, this is the deepest unit on the roster, obviously, but could grow even larger as some players jump back and forth from the defensive line. Today, though, we'll look at the projected two-deep. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess, except Anthony Stanko's use of a redshirt.
Of the starters, the middle and right side of the line are the most stable. Stank started the first ten games of the season as well as the bowl game, and Urschel and Farrell saw a good deal of playing time in the spots previously occupied by DeOn'tae Pannell and Chima Okoli, respectively.
The left side of the line, on the other hand, is essentially up for grabs. Quinn Barham and Johnnie Troutman each started all 13 games at left tackle and left guard, respectively. Behind them, Adam Gress saw action in six games, Mark Arcidiacono in two, and Khamrone Kolb saw action in just one game. Donovan Smith was a true freshman last year, as was Angelo Mangiro, who might work his way up into this two-deep before long.
Smith was a natural left tackle out of high school, and impressed anyone and everyone who saw him in practice a year ago. He is tall, has the athletic ability to keep speed rushers at bay, and has the rare opportunity of becoming a four-year starter. Whoever is under center next year is going to need time to throw, and protecting that quarterback's blind side is of utmost importance.
Hopefully all of these guys come to camp ready to play, and McWhorter has some difficult decisions on his hands. There are at least six bodies behind these ten that are pushing for playing time, so the bodies are there. The question remains whether the talent and coaching can come around.