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Fall Camp Preview: Offensive Line

Texas A&M’s offensive line started out slow a season ago, giving up 23 sacks in the first six games of the season. However, after an injury to Evan Eike forced Brian Thomas into the left guard position prompting Jake Matthews to be inserted at right tackle, the line started to really come together. Though the Aggies faced three powerful defenses in Oklahoma, Nebraska and LSU in the second half of the season, they were able to cut that number from 23 down to 14 sacks over the last 7 games.

This season, the Aggies will be looking to replace the departed Matt Allen, but all five starters on the line will likely have started at least one game for the Aggies. The biggest question on the offensive line isn’t so much who will be starting, but where?

The Starters

Rarely do sophomores have much job security, but it would take a completely unpredictable series of events for Luke Joeckel not to be the starter at left tackle. Joeckel had a good spring, and we’ve heard nothing but good things about his workouts this summer.

Though his footing is not quite as solid as Joeckel, it would also be extremely surprising if the starting right tackle isn’t fellow sophomore Jake Matthews. Matthews didn’t have a stellar spring by his, or coach Sherman’s, standards, but he still played fairly well. Matthews still has a little ways to go on reading some defensive end moves and sometimes struggles with quick blitzers, but he came along quite a bit in the spring at picking up the more complicated schemes.

The interior of the offensive line changed up quite a bit in the spring time, but the cast of characters was pretty consistent. One player that will certainly be in the starting lineup is junior Patrick Lewis. Lewis continued to improve in the spring from where he left off last fall, and has really become one of the better interior linemen in the Big 12 conference. Lewis worked at both guard and center in the spring.

Brian Thomas also worked at guard and center in the spring, though neither he or Lewis excelled at snapping the ball, which will be an issue to watch early on in the fall. Thomas is probably best suited at the guard position and projecting ahead, it would be surprising if Lewis isn’t at center with Thomas at guard when things shake out.

The fifth starter is likely to be Evan Eike. After having his season cut short by injury last year, Eike had an impressive spring and is a good fit at the guard position.

The Battles

The most likely opportunity for someone to work their way onto the starting unit is with Jarvis Harrison. The redshirt freshman really pushed Evan Eike in the spring, and took a lot of reps with the rest of the first unit. If Harrison comes into the fall ready to play, that could be a battle to watch.
The mountain of a man that is Shep Klinke moved around and some different spots in the spring, but he continues to impress with his rapid improvement. Klinke started at guard in the spring game, so I also wouldn’t count him out of the potential rotation with Eike and Harrison.

The other player that impressed in the spring was Cedric Ogbuehi, and we’ve also heard positive reports about his performance in workouts in the offseason. As players start to set the stage to make a run at the starting jobs left behind by Evan Eike next spring, Ogbuehi will be one to watch.

Newcomers

Joseph Cheek got a jump on the rest of the class by taking part in spring drills, and really improved over the course of the camp. He has quite a ways to go to become a viable Big 12 offensive lineman, but he has plenty of time to get there.

Ben Compton should be able to come in right away and at least add some depth to the center position. As a true center, he might even make some noise quickly if he’s able to grasp the system, especially if the snapping woes of spring practice are an issue through this season and into the spring. In addition, the potential battle is a long way off, but Compton will need the extra year advantage he has over 2012 commit Mike Matthews if he’s going to hold him off for the center spot down the road. Matthews is considered by many, including 247Sports’ Gerry Hamilton, to be the best center prospect in the country in 2012.

We’re interested to see how Shayvion Hatten looks when he first steps out there as well. Hatten will likely end up playing defense for the Aggies, who could use his 6-5, 265 pound body on a defensive line that lacks depth in the coming years.

The final incoming freshman is Atascocita’s Nathan Gutekunst. Like Cheek, Gutekunst will be trying to pick up the scheme while also trying to be physical enough to play offensive line at this level.

The Outlook

Jim Turner’s line has quite a bit of depth, and a lot of flexibility, especially compared to where they were two seasons ago. However, there is one concern on the offensive line. Last season it took the Aggies six games to really come together up front. While that can be attributed to having a freshman left tackle to start the season, you can’t put all of the blame just on the shoulders of Luke Joeckel.

The Aggies can’t afford to have a “gelling period” on the offensive line, and will need to be ready from game one. As a result, we don’t expect Mike Sherman to experiment quite as much with the offensive line as he did during the spring. Look for him to nail down a rotation fairly quickly and stick with it.

If the Aggies can come together early as expected, they should be solid if not altogether good on the offensive line this season. That, combined with the elite skill positions around them, should make the Aggie offense one of the nation’s best.

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