We continue our Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews by looking at the offensive line position. The grading categories: “Great Shape,” “Good Shape,” and “We’ll See.”
To elaborate on the grades, “We’ll See” means exactly what it means. We have no idea if that position is going to turn out to be a plus due to a lack of proven contributors and questionable depth. At this time, there’s no way to know.
“Good Shape” means known commodities are at the position but there’s still room for this unit to improve. Depth is above average to good, with a player or two having the potential to make an All-C-USA Team.
“Great Shape” means All-C-USA performers are at this position or there is good-to-great depth across the board. You obviously want your team to be here.
1. Louisiana Tech: All-conference guards O’Shea Dugas and Ethan Reed are the stalwarts of a line that will return seven linemen that have combined for 100 career starts. Tech ranked in the top 35 in Adj. Line Yards, Opportunity Rate, Power Success Rate, Stuff Rate and Standard Downs Sack Rate, advanced stats that indicate how successful an offensive line in situational downs and distance.
2. Marshall: After a terrible 2016 season, this unit bounced back in a major way as center Levi Brown made Second Team All C-USA. Marshall returns seven linemen who combined for 61 starts last year. It’ll be interesting to see how this unit takes to a new position coach as former offensive line coach Alex Mirabal left for Oregon after spending five years in Huntington.
3. UAB: The Blazers return four starters from a unit that paved the way for Spencer Brown to be one of the best freshmen in the country. Among those four starters, left tackle James Davis is the only one who received an Honorable Mention nod in 2017. The starter who doesn’t return is Second Team All-C-USA guard Chris Schleuger.
4. Old Dominion: Sometimes suffering through terrible injury luck provides benefits in the long run. A lot of fresh faces saw playing time in 2017 due to injuries and in 2018 this unit should be better for it. Nick Clarke and Isaac Weaver return after garnering Honorable Mention nods. Weaver earned C-USA All-Freshman honors too. ODU will return seven players from 2018 that started last season and between these linemen are 100 combined games started in their career. As long as the injury bug doesn’t strike again, this unit’s play will drastically improve.
5. FAU: The Owls will be without three starters as left tackle Reggie Bain and right tackle Brandon Walton are the only returning starters. Bain was First Team All-C-USA last season so that’s a big plus. Graduate transfer Junior Diaz by-way of Tulane, is projected to start at center. The Owls will have a new offensive line coach in UNLV’s John Garrison. Given the influx of JUCO three-stars in the 2018 class and Lane Kiffin’s reputation, the offensive line should be solid at the least, once again.
6. North Texas: Center Sosaia Mose, left guard Elex Woodworth, and left tackle Jordan Murray return to a unit that displayed a ton of growth in 2017. In 2016, North Texas ranked 119th in Passing Downs Sack Rate and 106th in Standard Downs Sack Rate. They ranked 64th and 80th, respectively, in those same stats in 2017. They struggled mightily against FAU and Troy to close the season but the foundation is there for this unit to take the next step. Given Mason Fine’s injury history, this is probably the most important unit in C-USA as their play will determine if UNT wins C-USA West for the second straight season.
7. Southern Miss: Guards Arvin Fletcher, Ty Pollard and and tackle Drake Dorbeck, return as USM’s three starters. Dorbeck and Fletcher received Honorable Mention nods as a sophomore and freshman, respectively, in 2017. Though this unit was terrific at protecting the QB (6th in Passing Downs Sack Rate and 14th in Standard Downs Sack Rate), they can definitely improve in run blocking. USM ranked 86th in Stuff Rate, 107th in Power Success Rate and 118th in Adj. Line Yards last season.
8. FIU: Seven linemen with a combined 100 career starts return in 2018 but among them, tackles Daquane Wilkie and Kai Absheer have 61 of the 100. The Panthers will miss all-conference guard Jordan Budwig. Overall this unit is solid but can improve a ton. The only thing they were exceptional at last season was making sure running backs didn’t get tackled behind the line as the Panthers ranked 11th in Stuff Rate. Former highly touted Georgia lineman D’ante Demery is now in the fold.
9. MTSU: Seniors Robert Behanan and Chandler Brewer headline this unit as they both received Honorable Mention nods last season. Considering Brent Stockstill’s injury history, having those two guys back is important.
10. Charlotte: Charlotte returns three starters, including senior right guard Nate Davis who earned an Honorable Mention nod last season. Though experience helps, Charlotte’s track record doesn’t give me any confidence that this line will be a plus.
11. UTSA: UTSA graduated all three of their starting interior linemen. Due to projected starting QB Bryce Rivers being left handed this has caused starting left tackle Josh Dunlop to move to right tackle to protect Rivers’ blindside. Senior Jordan Wright will likely be a large contributor at guard or center but some young guys are sure to be a factor. Just to emphasize the youth here, redshirt freshman Kevin Davis was taking first team reps at center this spring. This is a unit that doesn’t have much experience but will be their largest and most highly-recruited group of linemen in program history.
12. WKU: The Tops had one of the worst units in the conference and that was with all-conference guard Brandon Ray. Ray is gone and what remains is a slew of redshirt freshmen and sophomores. We all know WKU failed to record a run over 20 yards. Here’s some more damaging stats: WKU ranked 115th or worse in Stuff Rate, Adj. Line Yards and Opportunity Rate. And now they’ll be starting some youngsters. Last year a grad assistant coached this unit after assistant coach Geoff Dartt left the team to undergo treatment for brain tumors. Former Oregon State assistant TJ Woods is now the offensive line coach.
13. UTEP: Four starters are gone, including All-American guard Will Hernandez. Two-year starter, senior Center Derron Gatewood, is going to be relied on heavily.
14. Rice: Three starters are gone from last year’s team, including Calvin Anderson who left as a grad transfer to Texas. 6’6 300 Pound Florida Gators offensive lineman Andrew Mike will enter in the fall as a grad transfer. Bloomgren won’t have the size nor depth at OL this season to really install his offense. If the injury bug hits hard it could be dire.