March 24, 2008
Spring Preview: The Offensive Line
OUTGOING PLAYER: None
THE STARTERS: Marlon Winn (OT), Louis Vasquez (OG), Shawn Byrnes (C), Brandon Carter (OG), Rylan Reed (OT)
THE COMPETITORS: Chris Olson (OG), Justin Keown (C), Stephen Hamby (OG), Jake Johnson (OT), Adrian Archie (OT), Dominique Delpeche (OT), Lonnie Edwards (OG), Blake Emert (C), Jerrod Gooch (OG), Mickey Okafor (OT)
THE OUTLOOK: On a team stocked with talent and experience in every single unit, perhaps no position looks stronger than offensive line. All five starters return and so do their backups. Furthermore, a few very talented newcomers will attempt to dent the rotation. Good luck!
Selecting the headliner among Tech's offensive behemoths is no easy thing. Not because none exist, but because there are so many candidates for the honor.
As strong-literally and figuratively-a candidate as any is left tackle Rylan Reed. This human mountain range had a very impressive outing against one Chris Long in the Gator Bowl until he sustained a serious leg injury late in that contest. Long, incidentally, may well be the first player selected in the upcoming NFL draft. If you can play against Long, you can play against anybody. Reed did and can.
Next to Reed on the line is guard Louis Vasquez. He has been a major factor in the Red Raider line since his freshman season, and now, as a senior, is primed for all star honors. Generally speaking, when defensive players make contact with Vasquez, they are not heard from again. Call him The Eliminator.
Manning the middle of the line is center Shawn Byrnes. And he's everything you want in a center. Tough, scrappy, smart and savvy. And talented. Some observers believe he will end his Red Raider career as the best Tech center since the days of E. J. Holub and the Eisenhower administration.
The right side of Tech's line would be a strength on most teams. For the Red Raiders, however, it's a comparative liability. And I stress the word comparative. Most offensive lines would kill for the likes of Brandon Carter at guard and Marlon Winn at tackle. By Tech's stratospheric offensive line standards, however, they've still got a ways to go. That said, Carter is a colossus who moves like a Corvette-well, maybe a Mustang. He is also highly intelligent and has a gnarly streak to him. Winn matches Carter in nastiness, head slap for head slap, and he is also a rapidly improving player. And he has to improve because massive Jake Johnson is a backup who is capable of starting and has done so in the past.
Newcomers who could edge their way into the playing rotation are tackle Mickey Okafor and guard Lonnie Edwards. Both are redshirt freshman who possess a world of talent.
THE PREDICTION: One thing is certain: quarterback Graham Harrell will sail through many a game in 2008 without a single scratch. His offensive line pass protected marvelously in 2007 and may yet manage to improve dramatically in that area in the upcoming season. Only the very best defensive front sevens will have any hope of pressuring Harrell. And to do that, even they will almost certainly have to bring extra players.
It will be most interesting to see if the Tech line spends any extra time working on run blocking in the spring and summer. With such a massive, talented and experienced group, and with a stable of running backs that should be able to carry the mail, now would seem the ideal time to develop a somewhat stronger running game. But with a maniacally unstoppable passing attack, the legitimate question is, why? Don't, therefore, expect the Red Raiders to devote too much extra effort to run blocking.
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