Since OBNUG has been thigh-deep in the countdown for the better part of 3 months, we've been johnny-come-latelys when it came to producing our unit previews. Well, with just 12 days left till kickoff, and our game-week editorial schedule starting one week from today, it's probably time to get on the stick. Besides, johnny-come-earlys get the first crack at the hummus. This year, we're crowd-sourcing our previews by way of old-fashioned OBNUG roundtables. First guys on the board are also the first guys in line at Chuck-a-Rama—the offensive line. Here we go:
My thoughts on the O-line? Well, let's just say I think we'll be all right. We have a lot of those girthy gentlemans in the NFL, and that's not by accident. Coach Huff knows a thing or two about the finer points of offensive line play. Most recently though, we'll have to replace the likes of dearly departed (but, like, alive) New Orleans Saint Marcus Henry, and Seattle Seahawk Rees Odhiambo. So there goes our center and left tackle from 2015. Last year, the Boise State offensive line wasn't bad, and I refuse to see them as such, despite being ranked by FootballOutsiders.com as #100 in college football last year (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/ncaaol). That said, I have some thoughts. The rushing production, overall, was probably not on par with what we've come to expect from a Boise State rushing attack, laying down 2,488 last year. This sounds like a lot, but it ranked 41st in the nation last year and was good for only 4.5 yards per carry (57th). Obviously, that's not all on the offensive line, and it's not like we had bad performances from our running backs...I just think that with the depth an experience returning that this year can be better. Before we get into the 'why?', let's mention passing. BSU quarterbacks combined for 4,032 passing yards last year. That was good for 17th in the country. Again, that's not all on the line, not even mostly, but those numbers aren't a thing if the quarterback doesn't have time to throw, 17th is pretty dang good.
Now, back to the overall offensive production--of which, the line is the spine (also a great song title for Rexx Life Raj, which he can totally have if he wants)--I think that some of those numbers can only improve, because of the returning talent we have across the entire offense. It's all a symbiotic thing, right? Many cohesive parts of a whole. Ex: If the receivers get open quicker, Ryp finds them faster and the line doesn't have to hold up as long. However, I think that the most optimistic thing that can be said of the returning players on the line is that there is experience at every position and a decent amount of it. Aside from that, the depth on the line is such, that there will likely easily be one starting caliber player that starts the season as a backup. Maybe two.
I see the starters on the line being Auburn transfer Will Adams at right tackle, mountain-sized human Mario Yakoo at right guard, Mason Hampton as the center, Travis Averill as the left guard, and Archie Lewis as the left tackle, with Baggett being one injury away from any spot, center outward, to the right.
They pave the way to 4,000 rushing yards and never gives up so much as a QB knockdown. Later, we'll find out that all of the line members were secretly undercover as the new generation of Voltron, and working as a unit is just what they do.
Having a depth chart to parse is a pretty awesome thing. Especially when we have random conjecture and speculation as to what units are going to have success the next year.
From last year's roster, we have two guys that should make an NFL roster. Rees Odhiambo had a good career at Boise State. It could have been great had he not got injured. Marcus Henry was a reliable center who was smart on the line and could be trusted. Those are some big shoes to fill.
This front five is going to be one experienced bunch. The "youngest" (would be) starters are Archie Lewis an RS Junior, and Mason Hampton, also an RS Junior. If Will Adams gets the nod over Archie Lewis, we could see only one guy start that is not a senior.
Last year we saw Archie Lewis come in when Odhiambo got hurt. I know that Lewis had struggled in some games, and unfortunately struggling at the left tackle position isn't the greatest considering that it's one of the cornerstones of any team, let alone just the line. Which has me curious that SR Will Adams is already on "OR" level with Lewis for the LT spot. It could be Adams' experience as an RS Senior or those years spent in the SEC that helped him get to where he is at on the chart. For the sake of consistency, I hope Lewis was able to take last year's struggles and turn them into great gains this year. If not, we could see Adams as the resulting starter.
Mason Hampton has some things to prove coming into this year. His Boise State bio says that appeared in games over the last two years as either special teams or in a "reserve role." Which is going to happen when you have an All-Mountain West Conference First Team starting center. You just aren't going to get the looks if he doesn't miss a game. (Unlike Odhiambo, Henry didn't catch the injury bug.) So we don't know what to expect from Hampton yet. If the coaching staff trusts him, I trust him, but I also expect big man RS Freshman Garret Larson is going to be there waiting to take that opportunity if it's given.
The returning starters are going to be hard to dethrone given their time spent here. RS Sr. Travis Averill is a trusted starter that helped Brett Rypien throw for all the yards that Michael mentioned. Averill will be better as he heads into his final year. Mario Yakoo is a beast and will be drafted. Steven Baggett is one of those guys that you can't believe is still around, and he didn't even have an injury.
Lewis, Averill, Hampton, Baggett, Yakoo.
The offensive line only gives up 5 sacks all year.
Being built more like Kellen Moore than Kellen Buhr, I never really gravitated towards the big men when doing any film study or analysis. Sure, I know they're there—it's hard not to when they weigh 300 lbs—but these are groups of guys that are largely unsung and that get the most airtime when they fail spectacularly. Simply put, you notice the guy that runs through the hole a lot more than the guy that created it. That said, when those sack numbers start to rise, when the running lanes don't materialize, or when the QB has no time to make sandwiches, you start to suspect that not all is well in O-line town (a much less popular boy band than O-town). I got this suspicion last year, when despite fielding two NFL-ready players—Odhiambo, and Henry—the Bronco offense just didn't seem to be clicking like it had the previous season. In the end, a lot of this came down to the loss of Jay Ajayi...who didn't need no stinking run lanes, but some of it, surely came down to chemistry among the line—chemistry that I'm hoping is more chemist-y this season.
I think Boise State has recruited the O-line extremely well the last few cycles, and once these youngsters come into their own, we're going to have bulldozers up and down the line...for now, we'll need to scrap together the best combo of youngsters and upperclassmen we can to give ourselves our best chance at success. What would define that success? Firstly, the rushing numbers need to improve. As Michael stated above, the rush numbers weren't awful last year—and the difference between 40th in the country and 20th in the country is about 500 total yards—but with a power back like McNichols, a top 20 attack would signal improvement among the O-line. Second, the number of sacks allowed needs to trend down. Boise State gave up 31 sacks last season...some of that is on an inexperienced QB, but often that falls on the O-line as well. Boise State won't have to do a ton to improve on last season's ranking—tied for 82nd in the country. Sacks also have a way of impacting a quarterback's longevity and the Broncos need a healthy Brett Rypien if they want to reach the promised land. There isn't room for these guys in an elevator, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
(L to R) Will Adams, Travis Averill, Mason Hampton, Kellen Buhr, Mario Yakoo
Mario Yakoo will consume 10 pancakes for breakfast on September 3rd and register 10 pancake blocks hours later against UL-Lafayette.