Thursday, March 28, 2013
Offensive linemen on the rise in the SEC
By Chris Low
Who’s the next wave of standout offensive linemen in the SEC or maybe those guys who haven’t received their just due?
Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson, Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson, Arkansas’ Travis Swanson, Georgia’s Chris Burnette and Vanderbilt’s Wesley Johnson are known quantities.
But what about the guys who aren’t quite household names yet … but are moving in that direction?
You might not find any of the offensive linemen below on last season’s All-SEC teams, but they’re guys to watch in 2013 and could easily develop into All-SEC players down the road.
They’re listed alphabetically:
Evan Boehm, C, Missouri: He became the first true freshman offensive lineman under Gary Pinkel at Missouri to start in his first college game last season. Boehm wound up starting all 12 games at left guard and earned Freshman All-America honors. He’s moved to center this spring, which tells you a little something about his versatility and how much the Missouri coaches trust him.
A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina: The fourth-year junior has started 25 games over the past two seasons at left guard, the most among any returning player on the Gamecocks’ roster. Cann has caught the eye this spring of star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who knows a quality offensive lineman when he sees one.
La’el Collins, OT, LSU: The 6-foot-5 Collins has trimmed down from 325 pounds to 310 and is moving well at left tackle this spring. He was a starter all 13 games at left guard last season. But now in his third year in the program, Collins looks like he could be a natural at protecting Zach Mettenberger’s blind side.
D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida: Humphries came to Florida in 2012 as the top offensive line prospect in the country. He started three games as a true freshman last season and has settled in this spring as the Gators’ starter at left tackle. He’s bigger, stronger and primed to be an excellent all-around tackle in this league.
Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee: Even though James is entering his senior season, he’s managed to fly under the radar a bit. The Vols’ offensive line should be one of the best in the SEC in 2013, and the 6-6, 323-pound James is a big reason why. He’s started all 37 games of his college career and will team with Richardson to give Tennessee one of the top tackle tandems in college football.
Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama: Already, Kelly has received ringing endorsements from the guy he’s replacing, former Tide All-American Barrett Jones, as well as Kouandjio, who’s one of the top tackles in college football. Kelly, a sophomore, has everything it takes to be one of the top centers in the league.
Mike Matthews, C, Texas A&M: Yep, another Matthews. His older brother, Jake, will move from right to left tackle, and Mike will step in at center. He didn’t redshirt last season because the Aggies wanted him to be ready for 2013. He’s done nothing to disappoint this spring.
Aaron Morris, OG, Ole Miss: He’s out this spring after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, but the 6-5, 330-pound Morris will be the centerpiece of the Rebels’ offensive line in 2013. He started all 13 games at left guard last season and is the most talented and explosive offensive lineman on the roster. He moves well enough to pull and also has the strength and size to deal with the bigger defensive tackles in this league.
Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M: Part of that vaunted Texas A&M offensive line a year ago as a third-year sophomore, Ogbuehi started the whole season at right guard. But with Jake Matthews moving to left tackle, Ogbuehi has shifted to right tackle. He played tackle in high school, so the transition shouldn’t be that daunting. He’s plenty athletic enough and an excellent run-blocker.
John Theus, OT, Georgia: Theus became just the third true freshman to start at offensive tackle in the season opener for Georgia since true freshmen became eligible in 1973. He wasn’t even an early enrollee, either. He started all 13 games at right tackle last season and earned Freshman All-America honors. He’s been out this spring after undergoing foot surgery, but is expected back this week.