Thursday, July 14, 2011

2011 Position Previews: Offensive Line

New season. New format. Instead of a digestible combo of factoids and opinions, I am going to write in a more narrative, free style post. As always, feedback is appreciated.

Reputation is a funny thing. Bad or good, it often follows you even when it hasn't been relevant or accurate for years. BC's reputation is for producing great offensive lines. The reality is our offensive line play has been bad the past two years. But offensive line play is tough to measure. It is not about points or size or style. It is not about sacks or rushing yards. Real great offensive line play is about harmony. It is about rhythm and balance. It is about setting the stage for the skill players to score and get the glory. Great play offensive line play is really about five big clunky guys playing as one to the point where no one even notices how well they are playing.

Before I get into what's ahead for BC's Offensive line, let me give you my belief as to why our OLines were so good for so long. Seeing a 18-year-old throw a darting out pass or run a 40 yard dash gives you a good idea of how their skills translate to the next level. Projecting how a tall or chubby or clumsy 18-year-old will perform three years later and 60 pounds heavier is much harder to do. Offensive line isn't about measurables. It is about coaching. You need coaches who can look at a lump of coal and see the diamond underneath. And you need coaches who can teach their diamonds how to work together for the common goal. BC became OLineU because we had head coaches and position coaches who understood and appreciated offensive line play. Bicknell had his sons on the OLine. Coughlin came from Parcells's school where OLine was considered the foundation of everything. Henning for all his issues knew that much of the Redskins success was about great offensive line. TOB was a longtime OLine coach as was Jags. While year to year, some OLines were better than others, there was enough continuity that you could count on BC being strong upfront.

Now getting a defensive head coach isn't the reason our offensive line fell apart the past two years. The awkward combination of Spaz, Tranq, Devine, the system we ran, the lack of playmakers and the OL players they inherited all played a role. I do believe that if the coaching philosophies had been on the same page, we could have been respectable instead of just bad.

Despite my growing cynicism surrounding Spaz, I actually believe the offensive line will play better this year. Rogers' Olines at Syracuse and Notre Dame were always decent. I think Spinney, Richman and Cleary make a solid foundation...all with a chance to be very good or even great. White was decent last year in spot duty. That leaves Wetzel, Goodman, Betancourt, Williams or Kramer to step up and fill the void. All have potential. They just need to be put in position to blossom and excel. That is about hard work, coaching and scheme.

For someone who only watches the games and doesn't attend practices, my predictions and suggestions would be Cleary at LT, Richman at LG, Spinney at C, White at RG and Betancourt at RT. (Sub in Wetzel if Betancourt is not ready.) But one thing I don't want is starts based on seniority. Put the best guys in their best positions.

BC has managed to compete despite terrible line play the past two years. That trend cannot continue as the schedule is more demanding. If Devine doesn't get the guys clicking this year, than our days as Oline U may be on hiatus.


mod34b said...

Good analysis ATL.

One pretty significant point in defense of the OL the last 2 years is that it is hard to dominate or even beat your opposite number on the line when the other team stuffs the box and pretty much knows what play is coming (leaving aside some embarrassing telegraphing via stance from the line itself)

If we can pass protect, we have a chance at an ok passing game. If we have an ok passing game, rushing will be easier, the defenses will have a harder time of it and the OL may look better.

Another quirk is that our initial center last year, Richman, just did not click and that hurt the OL chemistry. Once Spinney took over things seemed to improve (granted the level of competition went down too toward the end of season)

Scott said...

Damn good analysis. Sums it up for me.

I know Spaz wants to get BC back to having a big, physical line that overpowers at the POA, much like our first two years in the ACC. I think that's the right move, provided we don't forget the importance of having quick, athletic lineman who can get low. Just hope we don't line-up a slew of 6'7+ 325+ guys, who have trouble with pressure.

Erik said...

Somewhere along the way, as I saw Tuggle stink, Shinskie stink, Marscovetra stink, Bordner stink, Rettig struggle, our talented running backs go for negative yards in entire halves to VT & Clemson, and seeing scoring fall way off -- somewhere in there it became obvious the O-Line was huge portion the issue. As happy as we are that Castonzo was a first round pick talent and Claiborne & Lapham had lots of experience, we are ripe for a new generation of linemen to enter the lineup.

Rogers should be a huge upgrade over Tranq, but wins & losses might come down to the cohesiveness of the unit in the trenches. Play-calling only gets you so far, someone needs to execute.

I think these guys get it done. I feel good about it.

Also, Bill, based on the Spring game, I think we might see Vardaro get some PT at Guard.

Crill said...

Thanks for the write-up - good series to get prepped on the team!

But anyone else have little faith in Cleary? He didn't look very good in the action I saw - especially against Nevada.

My prediction is the Wetzel and Betancourt are the starting tackles by mid-season...

JBQ said...

Good analysis. There is no doubt that the o-line problems started with Tranquill. Claiborne had a celebrated run-in with Spaziani. It would appear that the coaches didn't have a clue with their "zone blocking" as seen on you tube. Richman and Lapham were both hurt in practice on the same day and missed the next game. How can you lose two starters in practice? Flutie was sent to the operating table. Once he was opened up, the surgeon found nothing wrong. He also was obviously hurt in practice. He wasn't allowed to play. It would appear that there are some serious morale problems developing. Spaziani is confused and doesn't know what to do. He was great as a D.C. As a head coach, he has serious flaws.

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