It’s Late February – You Know What That Means February 26, 2013
OFFENSIVE LINE DISCUSSION WEEK!!!
As I’ve done for the last few years… here, I’ll just let last year me describe this:
Not long ago, on a message board not far away, before the existence of ALE, a certain cranky old Illini message board personality once mocked me for wanting to discuss the Illini offensive line in late February. To him, discussing our guards and tackles 6 months before the season meant that I “needed a life” and “probably didn’t do well with the ladies” (among other standard octogenarian insults).
So the following year, at the end of February, I did it again, and he mocked me again. He said that not one single human being on earth could care about the Illini offensive line this time of year, and he wondered aloud at whether it bothered me that I was the only person who cared about Illini football this way. Your standard cheerios/urine troll stuff.
Because I’m tremendously petty, the last week of February has now become Offensive Line Discussion Week here at ALE. I’ll never not do it. I get excited when the week approaches.
Today, the guards and centers. Tomorrow, the tackles (or, as Ron Zook liked to call them, “guards who can probably play tackle if we need them to, right?”)
Why start with the guards? Because that wasn’t just a joke – Ron Zook really only recruited one type of lineman. He liked maulers. Run blockers. Go-open-a-hole-for-Rashard-or-Mikel-ers. Which is why, when moving on to the NFL, our guys always end up at guard. Jeff Allen… moved inside to guard. Our left tackle last year Hugh Thornton… will move to guard in the NFL. Our last true tackle was probably Xavier Fulton, and he was a defensive lineman who grew into a left tackle body.
Want proof that this was a problem? Look at our recruiting class this year.
Offensive Tackles: 4
Offensive Guards: 0
Offensive Centers: 0
Guards and centers? We’ve got plenty of guards and centers. Tackles? Um…
OK, so tackles are tomorrow. Here’s what I think about the interior guys. First, Graham Pocic has graduated, so we’ll need to find a new center. But we’re also tweaking the offensive scheme under Bill Cubit and new offensive line coach Jim Bridge, so most everything we saw last year can be thrown out the window. In fact, maybe the best way to do this is for me to go through the roster and tell you everything I know about each guy. And then, at the end, I’ll maybe try to throw together a three-deep.
Teddy Karras – I can’t see a scenario where Bridge doesn’t start Karras at one of the three interior spots. Just like his 74 family members who have played offensive line in the Big Ten, Karras brings a nice nasty streak that every offensive line coach loves. I’m guessing he’s a staple at right guard for the next three seasons.
Alex Hill – Hill is still my guy. That hasn’t changed. He’s the most mobile of any of the linemen – watch him pull in practice and you think you’re watching a fullback. I’ve even had “should we use him as a blocking tight end?” thoughts (no, we probably shoudn’t). But if this new scheme calls for pulling guards, Hill is your guy.
Michael Heitz – I’m putting Heitz with the guards because I like Heitz at guard better than tackle. Bridge might need him at tackle, so there’s a chance he starts spring ball on the outside again, but I’m hoping some of the younger guys step up and Heitz maybe finds a starting spot at left guard. Heitz is by far the most experienced lineman on the entire line – he’s only a redshirt junior, but he’s played a full two seasons already.
Jake Feldmeyer – With Pocic gone, Feldmeyer is probably the most likely pick to become starting center next year. But any time you switch line coaches, they always seem to favor the younger guys – they want to build a great line 2-3 years down the road. So that’s probably working against Feldmeyer. Working for him: he’s a fifth year senior and might be able to provide some veteran leadership to this young team.
Joseph Spencer – As you read here back in August, he was my favorite young lineman. From the drills I saw in Rantoul, Spencer really delivered a great punch. Reminded me a bit of Ryan McDonald. For now, he’s my early line favorite to win the starting center job. The only drawback: he’s just a redshirt freshman, and he might need one or two more years in the weight room before he’s ready to take on an Ohio State defensive tackle.
Chris Boles – Big. Chris Boles is big. Maybe a little too big – a year ago right now he was the guy picked last when they chose strength and conditioning teams. According to the coaches, he used that as motivation and he showed up in Rantoul in much better shape (I think he dropped from 345 to 325). Will he ever get into Big Ten playing shape? This, his third (rs-soph) season, is probably when we find out.
Tony Durkin – It’s always the spring before a guy’s redshirt sophomore season where I have an “oh yeah, Tony Durkin” moment. Well, it’s not officially called an “Oh Yeah Tony Durkin Moment” – it’s just that I always forget about certain players who arrived on campus almost three years ago. My boy Jack Cornell was like that. His third year, spring practice, and I’m all “oh yeah, Jack Cornell”. Here’s hoping Durkin takes the exact same path. Beard and all.
Chris O’Connor – O’Connor and Durkin were high school teammates. Durkin arrived as an offensive lineman and O’Connor arrived as a defensive tackle. But last fall, the coaching staff switched O’Connor to offensive guard. When I saw him in Rantoul he looked like… well, he looked like a defensive lineman playing offensive line. He still has a lot to learn about his new position.
Shawn Afryl – On signing day, I always say the same thing about offensive linemen we recruit: Redshirt him, feed him, set up a cot in the weight room, and unleash him in his fourth (redshirt junior) season. Well, this will be Afryl’s redshirt junior season. Which means it’s now or never. He’s bounced back and forth from tackle to guard his first three seasons – this fall he’ll need to find a role and push for minutes.
OK, so who starts? And who is the first guy off the bench? It’s a difficult question, what with us not knowing the offensive (or even the blocking) schemes yet. But going off Bill Cubit’s “north-south running” comments at his introductory press conference, here’s how I’m setting up the depth chart at the interior positions:
First subs off the bench, I’d say Hill and then Feldmeyer. The other guys are probably just too young to make an impact yet.
All of that, of course, is subject to change wildly after only a few spring practices. Once we see the scheme and the blocking techniques we’ll have a better idea who starts. So this is all way premature. Wait, why am I doing this in February again? Oh yeah.
Time to go watch Gene-Gene again.