Position Battles: Offensive Line

The maroon goons are at it again and are poised to be an area of strength on this upcoming 2014 squad. It seems like we’ve got a broken record on our hands… same song, different year. For the better part of the decade the Aggies have simply reloaded at offensive line, and they consistently gel into one of the top units in the nation. Not only that, but A&M is poised to have an offensive lineman get drafted in the top 5 for the second year in a row with Jake Matthews. Last year, Luke Joeckel was taken 2nd overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. And not to get ahead of ourselves, but Cedric Ogbuehi is already a star that received a first round draft grade this year. By staying for his senior season, he can hone his skill and truly develop into an elite top 5 pick. Below are the original maroon goons, recruited by Sherman in 2010.

 ImageLeft to Right: Luke Joeckel, Garrett Gramling, Jarvis Harrison, Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Matthews, Shep Klinke

Despite his flaws, Mike Sherman did one thing better than anyone. He recruited and developed offensive lineman. Coach Sumlin is still reaping the benefits of the deep cupboard of OL recruits Sherman left him. And coupled with the strong recruiting that Sumlin has done on his own, the maroon goons are here to stay.

Sumlin landed the #4 recruiting class in 2014, but his biggest coup yet may have been convincing Cedric Ogbuehi to stay his senior season. As mentioned before, Cedric had received all first round draft grades from NFL scouts and could be signing a contract worth millions in April. However, he decided to stay at A&M another year and will follow in Jake Matthews footsteps by moving from right tackle to left tackle. In the NFL, the left tackle position is paid better than any other offensive lineman position because they are tasked with protecting the quarterback’s blindside. Expect whoever wins the coveted open right tackle spot to be given the same opportunity after Ogbuehi graduates. Cedric is a lock for the left tackle position and has 30 career starts under his belt.

Jarvis Harrison is currently recovering from an offseason shoulder injury and not participating in spring practices. However he is the most experienced of the group with 31 career starts to his name. He redshirted his freshman year and enters as a 5th year senior. Last season he played at left guard but he is versatile enough to play whichever offensive line position the coaches need him at. Sumlin spoke to the media after Tuesday’s practice and said, “He’s pretty versatile. He’ll be ready to go [in the fall]. We know what Jarvis can do.”

Mike Matthews, son NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, is the 3rd son of Bruce to play offensive line at A&M. His older brothers Kevin Matthews (2006-2010) and Jake Matthews (2010-2014) have both had very successful careers to date. That being said, Mike, has had his own success claiming the starting center position in only his 2nd year at A&M. He was recruited in 2012 and the coaches bypassed redshirting him with the plan to groom him for the center position. Patrick Lewis was entering his senior season and the coaches needed a successor ready to replace Lewis in 2013. Mike provided a steady transition in 2013 following Patrick’s departure. The main opportunity for improvement for Mike will be to increase the tempo in 2014. In 2012 Patrick was able to push the tempo to an average of 84 plays per game, but that pace lagged to 74 plays per game in 2013. With Jake Spavital calling the plays now and Mike Matthews entering his second season as a starter, expect the focus to be on increasing the tempo.

Redshirt sophomore Germain Ifedi started at right guard in 2013 and is being given every opportunity to land the coveted right tackle opening. “He likes playing tackle,” Kevin Sumlin said of Ifedi. “We’ll see. He’s competing, and the way he’s playing right now, he really doesn’t want to give it up.” Sumlin further praised Germain’s work in keeping his weight down. He weighed in at 327 lbs. which was down from 340 lbs. in the past. “I was on him a little bit about his weight and he pulled his shirt up and his belly wasn’t hanging over. He’s catching up with his body.” Look for Germain to continue to compete for that open right tackle position.

With an open spot remaining from the graduation of Jake Matthews, many expect one of A&M’s highly touted JUCO recruits to compete for the spot. However, Sumlin is patiently working them into the 2nd team lineup and allowing them time to get acclimated to the playbook and system. Instead, RS senior Garrett Gramling and RS junior Joseph Cheek have gotten looks at the opening. Both have received playing time and Garrett Gramling even started two games last year. Garrett seems like the logical choice since he has prior starting experience. However, the coaching staff will need to look towards the future. With Gramling entering his senior season, the coaches may opt for someone younger to ensure more continuity on the offensive line.

Right now A&M will start 3 redshirt seniors in Cedric Ogbuehi , Jarvis Harrison, and Garrett Gramling. With all three graduating in 2015, Sumlin will want to create a smooth transition and give lots of playing time to younger players. Look for several new faces to figure into the depth chart this next season.

Juniors
Joseph Cheek – enters his 4th year in the program and saw action in all 12 games in 2013.
Avery Gennesy – 4 star JUCO transfer and early enrollee in 2014.
Jermaine Eluemunor – 4 star JUCO transfer and early enrollee in 2014.

Sophomores
Jeremy Stuckey – 3 star JUCO transfer and early enrollee in 2013.
Kimo Tipoti – 3 star recruit who redshirted in 2012 and has not yet seen playing time.

Freshman
Ishmael Wilson – 4 star recruit who redshirted in 2013.
Joas Aguilar – 4 star recruit who redshirted in 2013.

With the 3 offensive lineman set to graduate after the 2014 season, A&M will lose a large amount of talent and depth. Sumlin identified that issue and went out and recruited 6 offensive lineman in the 2014 recruiting class. Most expect all of the incoming freshman to redshirt and possibly one of the two JUCO transfers. And if the open spot on the line goes to Joseph Cheek or a JUCO transfer, A&M will only have to replace 2 starters next year. In the midst of all the shuffling, Sumlin stressed that A&M will field an elite unit for the 2014 season.

“The thing about the offensive line is you want to create what we call a nickel, and not five pennies. The five best guys aren’t always the best O-line. [It’s] the guys who can communicate and the guys who can play. We’ll figure that out.”

Prediction:
Left Tackle: Cedric Ogbuehi
Left Guard: Joseph Cheek
Center: Mike Matthews
Right Guard: Jarvis Harrison
Right Tackle: Germain Ifedi

 

Follow us on twitter @MaroonReport for the latest updates and more Aggie football news.

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