Just taking a cursory glance at different rosters in the American Athletic Conference for the upcoming season, I noticed one thing that I have never seen from a college football program.
The Tulane Green Wave have only 11 offensive linemen on the 2016 roster, including incoming freshmen Phabion Woodard and Tyler Johnson. Yes, that is a very low number, but not completely out of the realm of possibility. But that's not all. In addition to the 11 offensive linemen on the roster, Tulane also has 11 running backs.
As a form of comparison, I pulled the offensive linemen projected to be on the 2016 roster of four different Group of Five programs. Sun Belt programs Georgia Southern (19) and Arkansas State (17) were well above the 11 at Tulane. As were Western Kentucky (18) and AAC rival Houston (17). The difference between 11 and 17 offensive linemen is monumental in building a program, especially in the first season as head coach.
The fact that there are as many running backs on the roster is equally stunning. I do not remember a time in my lifetime that a team carried the same number of running backs as offensive linemen. The high number of running backs at Tulane is another story for another day. Today is about looking at an offensive line that will struggle to make a proper two-deep in the spring.
I did not even take into account just how bad the Tulane offense was in 2015. They were among the worst offenses in the nation with an experienced offensive line.
How did it get to this point?
In all fairness to new head coach Willie Fritz, the exodus of offensive linemen started well before the job was even available. A quick announcement before the final home game of the season, a matchup versus Tulsa, stated that juniors Colton Hanson (24 career starts) and Nathan Shienle (32 career starts) would be celebrated with the senior class for their accomplishments on the field.
Wait, two offensive linemen with over 20 starts to their names would give up their seniors seasons just like that? Yes, that really happened. There is clearly more to the story, but I have been unable to find out what exactly caused both to leave after their junior seasons and not immediately transfer to another program.
With the announcement that both linemen would be forgoing their final year of eligibility, Tulane would be heading into the 2016 offseason needing to replace three very important offensive linemen, rather than one. Seniors Arturo Uzdavinis (36 career starts) and Bob Bradley would join Hanson and Shienle as former Green Wave offensive linemen.
Fritz walked into an offense that could be replacing 92 career starts among three offensive linemen. In addition, backup guard Brandon Godfrey made the move to the FCS to play for Nicholls State, jumping the total to five offensive linemen to replace from 2015.
There is good news for Fritz and company as four returning players started at least one game in the 2015 season. Rising senior Chris Taylor is the elder statesman of the group with 30 career starts. He will be manning his right guard position, having made each of the last 24 starts at that position.
Right tackle Todd Jacquet (17 career starts) will likely move to left tackle as his did when Uzdavinis missed the Memphis game in 2015. Jacquet and Taylor are the only two seniors on the 2016 offensive line.
The only other players with a seemingly strong grasp on their starting positions are center Junior Diaz (4 career starts) and tackle John Leglue. Diaz saw time while Shienle battled injuries and should take over position full time now that Shienle has moved on. Leglue was the backup left tackle for the majority of the season, but he saw action as a starter versus Memphis at right tackle. He should move there as Jacquet takes over the other spot.
Sophomore Leeward Brown was highly thought of by the previous coaching staff and was the backup at left guard to Hanson. He was unable to see any playing time last fall, but he will be the favorite to fill out the line.
And then we have the lesser experienced players. Only Devon Johnson (11 games played) and Kenneth Santa Marina (6 games played) have seen any action at the college level. They should fit in as solid backups to the starting five.
Keyshawn McLeod and Keeyon Smart are sophomores that must be ready to step into the two-deep as they virtually have no other choice. Unless a player is moved from the defensive line, the depth chart will likely include all but one offensive linemen on the roster.
This is not an ideal situation for the Green Wave coaching staff and injuries could send this team spiraling into the abyss. Expect to see Fritz target multiple offensive linemen for the 2017 class so that he never has to go through another season with so few offensive linemen.