For a few years now, the offensive line has looked relatively similar, with familiar faces seeing a lot of time on the field together, providing a lot of memorable moments along the way. This year, there's a bit of a changing of the guard with three highly experienced starters departed, making way for a new crop of offensive linemen. Let's take a look at how things are shaping up.
As previously mentioned, there were 3 three-year starters last year who walked across the stage at graduation ceremonies, leaving a void in their place. First is center Jay Finch -- a three-year starter who took over for legendary center/rocket scientist Sean Bedford beginning in the 2011 season. As a seasoned vet at center, Finch brought a lot to the offense with experience and technique, combined with his rapport with the quarterbacks he worked with. He even got looks from NFL teams as a potential prospect due to his athleticism. His departure is matched by that of three-year starter at tackle, Ray Beno. Another experienced lineman, Beno was in pretty bad physical condition towards the end of his career due to injuries mounting, but he played on and could be consistently trusted in both pass and run blocking. Perhaps the biggest loss of all was in four-year starter and 2010 freshman All-American Will Jackson, a versatile player who saw time both at guard and tackle. Like Beno, Jackson wasn't at full health later in his career, but still was considered a solid, reliable offensive lineman who saw a majority of the offensive snaps when he was physically able to.
The other major departure that happened just recently was that of Chase Roberts, who suffered a bad concussion in the Clemson game. Though he was finally cleared to return to football by doctors, the unusually long process leading up to that clearance led to him and his family agreeing that it was best if he hung up his cleats. From a football standpoint, it's a true shame given that Roberts was looking like a potential starter next year at tackle. However, it's fortunate for him and his family that he had the opportunity to stop playing on his own terms, and not when circumstances would have absolutely demanded it.
The interesting thing about having four major offensive linemen departing, is that the net change in the offensive line numbers is actually +3. Tech added six (yes, six) offensive linemen in the most recent class. Those linemen are, in no particular order, Trey Klock, Andrew Marshall, Gary Brown, Jake Stickler, Jake Whitley, and Michael Preddy (recruited by a lot of schools as a DE, but will play OT at Tech). In the above order...
- Klock is a very athletic player who played Tight End and Defensive End in high school and comes from a solid football pedigree. He'll likely play tackle in Coach Johnson's system.
- Marshall was rated as the best center in the state of Georgia for his high school class, and is likely to play there, though he has potential to be versatile a la Will Jackson.
- Brown was a fairly sought-after recruit who flew under the radar for a lot of Tech fans in this recruiting class. Early signs would indicate that he's impressing a lot of people and could be in line for playing time at guard.
- Stickler has solid measurables and sported some big-time offers coming out of high school. He projects as a tackle.
- Whitley could be one of the surprises from the class, as he brought little hype and few BCS-level offers. However, multiple FTRS commenters have spoken highly about Whitley and the program he came from, meaning this could be another example of coaches finding lesser-known gems in their recruiting.
- Preddy was a defensive end primarily in high school, but like Klock also played Tight End. He may take some time to transition into an offensive line role, but has a lot of athleticism that will help him in adapting.
Also joining the fray at offensive line will be TCU transfer Eason Fromayan, a native of Milton High School who transferred back to Atlanta for family reasons. At 6'5", 280lbs, he could play either guard or tackle, and he should be eligible immediately.
Projected Depth Chart
With Finch, Beno, and Jackson departed, there will be new starters at one tackle spot (Beno), one guard spot (Jackson), and at center (Finch) this year. Bryan Chamberlain remains as an incumbent at one tackle spot, while Chris Griffin looks to assume the starter role at the other spot. Griffin has major potential and could end up, similar to Jackson, as a four-year starter. Inside, Jackson will be replaced by Trey Braun, a talented lineman who is likely to impress a lot of fans moving forward. The other guard spot will be held down by Shaquille Mason, likely the best offensive lineman on the roster at the moment. Mason is getting potential NFL attention as he enters his senior year, and he was recently named to the Outland Trophy watch list as one of the top 64 interior linemen in college football. At center, Freddie Burden is the heir apparent to Jay Finch.
|Position||First String||Second String|
|OT||Bryan Chamberlain (R-Jr)||
Nick Brigham (R-So)
Trey Klock (Fr)
|OG||Trey Braun (R-Jr)||Shamire DeVine (R-Fr)|
|C||Freddie Burden (R-So)||
Thomas O'Reilly (R-Jr)
Andrew Marshall (Fr)
|OG||Shaquille Mason (Sr)||
Nick Brigham (R-So)
Gary Brown (Fr)
|OT||Chris Griffin (R-Fr)||
Errin Joe (R-Jr)
Jake Stickler (Fr)
There's a good chance that one or more true freshmen play this year, especially at tackle. While Errin Joe is the primary backup at one tackle spot, certain outlets are reporting that he's struggling to stay in shape, meaning his playing time could be limited that way. As mentioned before, word out of Tech's camp is that Klock and Brown are both impressing coaches and could be in line for plenty of playing time. The other interesting spot to watch will be the center position, where there's not only a new starter there, but also at quarterback. There's no telling how that will play out, but there's very much a chance that O'Reilly or Marshall end up pushing Burden for playing time.
When your team loses three starters, it looks an awful lot like doom and gloom for the offensive line. However, I'll give you two reasons to be positive about this group still. First, as mentioned a couple of times above, none of the three starters lost were in particularly good health -- they had nagging injuries that enabled them to still play, but at a reduced level. Replacing them with healthy linemen, though the experience is lost and more mistakes will be made, should minimize the impact felt by the departure of Finch, Beno, and Jackson. Second, there are some young guns that will be playing a lot more this fall who the coaches are very excited about, and who will have benefitted from learning from the older guys. Also, it should be noted that it's not always a bad thing to have new guys come in and break the status quo -- doing things a little differently could even prove to have better results. That said, I do think this group is one to be wary of, especially early in the year. That could be a little concerning for the 5'10", 185 pound quarterback who's projected to be the starter, as well.
What are your thoughts on this unit? How hard will the lost starters be felt? Are their replacements adequate?