If TCU is to be glam, O-line must shine
Inexperienced group must hold together for Horned Frogs' explosive offense to take off
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Jeff Olson, TCU's furry-faced, 300-pound left tackle, seems as likely a candidate to be the new face of Horned Frogs football as he is to date a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.
Date? Heck, the senior and first-year starter will wed Kaitlin Ilseng, a high-stepping blonde beauty, next May.
Throughout the scorching month of August, this 6-foot-4 teddy bear/behemoth has been coach Gary Patterson's hand-picked choice to play the role of team spokesman leading up to Friday's season opener in Waco against the Big 12's Baylor Bears.
The one exception has been the jovial and affable Olson.
Then again, why shouldn't the most important new starter on an overhauled offensive line be the focal point as reloaded TCU has plans to stay in the national spotlight?
For the first time in five seasons, No. 14 TCU opens a season with an inexperienced quarterback that will need time and protection. The Horned Frogs also could boast one of the most feared rushing attacks in the country if the front five can push around its foes.
"There seems like there's always a little bit of pressure [on the offensive line]," Olson said. "We've been through the fire-and-brimstone of two-a-days and 113 degrees. We've definitely come together. We've grown up as a group."
When asked just a month ago about his impressive trio of returning rushers being able to buy time for his green QB, Patterson said: Forget the tailbacks. That's up to the O-line.
Patterson's assessment of the offensive line Tuesday?
"We'll see Friday," he said.
All four of Olson's career starts came last season at right tackle. Two weeks ago, he moved to the left side, the more glamorous blind side, because senior tight end Robert Deck made enough strides to start at right tackle.
Olson has the unenviable job of replacing Marcus Cannon, a second-round talent taken in the fifth round by the New England Patriots only because Cannon last spring first had to tackle non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"All throughout June and July, I worked at left tackle just so I could be ready for both because I feel like I can be that guy that can swing from left to right if I need to," Olson said. "I had an idea it [the switch] was coming. I didn't know for sure at the beginning of camp, but I had an idea."
Olson will line up next to left guard Kyle Dooley, a 315-pound preseason all-Mountain West Conference pick who just happens to be the Frogs' only returning starter. Junior center James Fry replaces All-American Jake Kirkpatrick. Junior right guard Blaize Foltz made two starts as a sophomore in 2009 and played in five games before an injury derailed his season in 2010.
"Would you feel better because you had a Jake Kirkpatrick and a Marcus Cannon? Yeah," Patterson said. "But I have two guards coming back, and Jeff Olson played a lot of football. One other tackle position hasn't played much, so whoever that is [Deck] will be where we need to be."
But can this inexperienced group of upperclassmen -- three seniors and two juniors -- get TCU to where it was last year?
The Frogs' offense is coming off season school records for touchdowns (73), points (541), total offense (6,199 yards) and first downs (327).
Nine sacks allowed in 13 games ranked tied for fifth in the nation. The Frogs finished fourth in the nation in scoring (41.6 points), 10th in rushing (247.4 yards) and 12th in total offense (476.9 yards).
The Frogs begin their campaign against Baylor, which they thrashed in Fort Worth last season 45-10. TCU scored touchdowns on its first five drives, ripped through the Bears for 291 rushing yards and 558 total yards.
It was 21-3 after one quarter and 35-3 at the half. And it could have been worse.
"Every year is different," Patterson reminded.
This is now the year of an unusually conspicuous left tackle. For a young man whose bearded mug has been offered to the cameras more than any other player ... who is set to marry his glamorous girlfriend and has taken over the one glamour spot on the offensive line -- just as TCU is poised for an important final season before going glam in a BCS conference -- Olson said he isn't fazed.
"It's very safe to say that I don't think any position is a glamour position on the offensive line, but I definitely feel comfortable at left [tackle]," Olson said. "I've just worked throughout the summer, being prepared. Just being ready for anything."
Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPNDallas.com.