If you all remember I did a series of articles in June of 2017 that looked at the departing starters from the 2016 season and who I thought would be replacing them for 2017. With that I assigned a grade of “Upgrade“, “Downgrade” or “Draw‘.
What I’ll do first is look at each position, or unit, along the offense or defense as of today and write down who I think will be the starter and why it will be that guy. Then I’ll assign a ranking of “Upgrade” if I see an upgrade in player quality, “Downgrade’ if I see a lessening of talent or “Draw” if I think we’ll match last year’s player(s) in the position or unit.
It isn’t any secret that I have been writing many times since the end of last season that I feel the Offensive Line is going to be a major problem for our 2018 team. I have done so constantly and I sure do feel that way.
Last year at this time I also wrote that the 2017 version of our OL was going to be the Achilles Heel of the offense… battling the QB position for that honor. Well, as it turns out that was correct and our OL was about the worse I can remember in a long time.
Going back not all that far we had a very poor OL in Todd Graham’s 2011 year when we were 119th in Tackles For Loss Allowed with 110 on the season; 120th in Sacks Allowed with 64 and 93rd in Passing Efficiency at 118.1. Add to that our 74th in Rushing Offense and you can see how ineffective we were – and those ranking are out of only 120 teams in Division 1 at the time. You may say that the implementation of the Graham’s High Octane Spread Offense had a lot to do with that but the truth is we just had poor offensive line talent.
Those four statistics are key indicators of how well the line is protecting the QB and helping (or hindering) the running backs. Now, it is pretty obvious that our 2017 wasn’t a whole lot better than that 2011 unit. Here is how they stacked up against each other in those categories:But here’s the rub – that poor showing by our 2017 OL was done even when it was populated by linemen who had a pretty darn good amount of P5 game experience. Experience is what you want in an Offensive Linemen and that is why when you see really good, productive lines they are made usually up of a lot of upperclassmen – mostly redshirt Juniors and redshirt Seniors.
For instance last year our starting lineup on the OL was, in left to right order; rsJR Brian O’Neill, rsSR Alex Officer, rsFR Jim Morrissey, rsJR Alex Bookser and rsSR Jared-Jones Smith. Not only were four of five upperclassmen they also had a lot of starting experience to draw on.
That is the big difference between the 2017 OL and what our 2018 squad is going into this season. Here is a table of experience I drafted to show the huge difference in the two season’s lineman’s starts against Power 5 schools.