February 25, 2009

Spring football: O-line in search of run blocking

With spring football starting Friday, we preview the offensive line …

On the roster: Tray Allen, junior, 6-5, 310; Thomas Ashcraft, freshman, 6-5, 315; Mark Buchanan, redshirt freshman, 6-6, 295; Chris Hall, senior, 6-4, 300; Kyle Hix, junior, 6-7, 320; Michael Huey, junior, 6-5, 315; Paden Kelley, freshman, 6-7, 270; Aundre McGaskey, sophomore, 6-5, 290; Steve Moore, junior, 6-5, 300; Luke Poehlmann, redshirt freshman, 6-7, 260; Garrett Porter, freshman, 6-6, 305; David Snow, sophomore, 6-4, 300; Charlie Tanner, senior, 6-4, 305; Adam Ulatoski, senior, 6-8, 302; Mason Walters, freshman, 6-6, 295

The battle: Texas has been a solid pass-blocking team but not a special run-blocking team. So if the coaches are serious about creating a new, "downhill" running attack, they need to look as much at the run-blocking scheme as they are the running backs. I've had NFL people tell me Texas' linemen haven't been athletic enough to down-block and reach the second level (linebackers) in a zone scheme. The solution, my NFL sources said, is either find some more athletic linemen who can down block more quickly or change the blocking scheme. With that said, the returning starters on the line: Ulatoski, Tanner, Hall and Hix have a couple challenges in front of them: They have to sharpen their run blocking while holding off a host of young, up-and-comers. Texas only lost one starter from the line - Cedric Dockery at right guard - who was considered the least athletic of the group. Huey will challenge for that guard spot, along with sophomore David Snow, who became a breakout player in 2008. Snow will also back up Hall at center.

One of the best battles of the spring will go on at left tackle to back up Ulatoski. Is Tray Allen ready to ascend? Or will a young buck like Luke Poehlmann or Mason Walters make a serious move? Will Muschamp has shown on defense he is loyal to no one because of seniority. He's all about playing the hardest-working and most-talented players - freshmen or not. Let's hope this attitude rubs off to the offense, where there are plenty of chances to stay with guys "who have spilled blood" for the program or move on to younger, hungrier, more athletic players. I'm not singling out anyone. But let's say, if Mason Walters is ahead of Tray Allen, Walters has to play. (Walters looks like as good a candidate to be a three or four-year starter as anyone, but he has to prove it starting Friday. Walters will be out there because he's an early enrollee.)

Who could surprise in the spring: Walters. I'm as excited to see this guy as I am some of the receivers, running backs and defensive linemen.

Starters heading into the spring: LT Ulatoski, LG Tanner, C Chris Hall, RG Huey, RT Hix

Backups heading into the spring: LT Allen, LG Snow, C Snow, RG Snow, RT McGaskey

Final analysis: Because the pass-blocking was much improved last year over 2007, when injuries and inexperience decimated the O-line, the next step starting this spring is to improve the run blocking. This has to be among the top priorities, if not Priority No. 1, on offense this spring. Otherwise, you've got an offensive line that putts really well but can't get off the tee, or can shoot 3s but has no idea how to score inside. We know Texas has the talent on the roster to be a good run-blocking team, so now is the time to show it.

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