I wonder if he'll have to check a bag in order to get that costume to LA for the Pac 12 Tournament?
No, I'm not talking about the little dance you do every time you walk into a Five Guys and get a burger, I'm talking about the offensive line.
Spring Football Question Number One:
Which five guys will start along the offensive line?
I talked about this a little bit in my pre-signing day previews for tackles and interior linemen, but there have been some developments since then. The biggest being one of the five guys I was certain would start, Paulay Asiata leaving the team. He looked like he would be a good one pretty soon, but now we have to move on and find someone else.
The Left Side:
As I've been saying since last season (and I reiterated it in my pre-signing day previews), I think David Bakhtiari would be best served playing offensive guard. He started at right tackle for us two years ago and left tackle for us this past year. He is our best offensive linemen, as the coaches have said more than once, but I have maintained that his best position isn't on the outside. The coaches see it too, as B.G. Brooks' Spring Primer states. They're going to try him inside and let a guy I've been high on try to win the left tackle spot: Alex Lewis. He saw the field quite a bit as a blocking tight end and was pretty darn effective. He's strong, has long arms, gets good leverage and has a nasty temperament. He still needs to pack on a few pounds, but he could be a very good left tackle for us.
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I can see Lewis taking a firm grasp of the left tackle spot during the spring, and I believe Bakhtiari can be an All-Conference performer at guard, his more natural position. That should settle up the left side for the Buffs going into summer drills.
Now, it is possible that come summertime, one of the incoming freshmen could break into the starting 5 along the line, but I don't think that will happen. Possibly Irwin at right guard, but I actually like the guys we've got fighting for the spot there.
We have the incumbent: Gus Handler, a Junior who took over the starting spot and didn't relinquish it all year. He has a good chance to keep that spot, but he will have to improve to hang on to it. He needs to continue to improve at making the calls and holding up strong to give the QB room to step up, but he moves well and played his best football at the end of the season. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if he was firmly entrenched after spring ball.
The backup: Kaiwi Crabb took over the backup center spot during 2011, but only got a few snaps here and there in games to prove himself. He is stout, but we don't know a whole lot more than that. He's going to fight to beat out Handler, but also to make sure he's the first guy off the bench at the pivot. He (like everyone) will also probably get time at the guard spots so we can maintain maximum flexibility with the linemen.
The newcomers: Brad Cotner and Alex Kelley. I think Cotner will have a chance to fight for the backup spot at center. He was a very talented but very undersized C in high school, but spent the last year putting on 50 lbs and getting up to 290 lbs. He should know something about leverage and technique, having played at such a low weight, and now hopefully he can combine that with size and strength. He could surprise people. Kelley could also surprise people, but I believe he has a better chance at right guard.
The "Incumbent": Daniel Munyer. I call him the incumbent because he got a few snaps here and there throughout the season. True, he hasn't proven anything, but I've liked what little I've seen from him. But his lack of experience will mean he doesn't have that great of an advantage over the guys trying to break into the top 5.
Other candidates include the aforementioned Crabb and Cotner, plus Kelley and Ryan Dannewitz. Kelley excites me because he was supposed to be a nimble and talented center who looked polished and very good. He broke his foot so instead of joining the team last summer, he is gray shirting and practicing with them now. He's fully healthy and our biggest lineman at 315 lbs, and he can supposedly still move. That is exciting. He will be one to listen for when they give spring practice updates, and I'm excited to see how he performs in the spring game. At the very least, hopefully he can work himself into the mix as a reserve. And Dannewitz is the veteran of the bunch. I like him best as a backup who can play multiple positions (basically anything but center). We saw what happens when we have to rely on him for a whole season, though, and there is a dropoff. But he's footspeed is best suited to being a guard and he has good size and power. I could see him taking ahold of the right guard spot this spring. While you want to be excited about future prospects, having a guy who has seen and overcome a lot on your offensive line isn't the worst thing.
Everyone needs to pray for health here with me. Jack Harris should get his chance yet again to be our RT. He has been injured early each of the last two years. Hopefully this time he breaks through and starts all season. He's a powerful and nasty blocker who can help with the attitude adjustment the coaching staff is looking for on offense. And seeing an in-state kid living up to his potential along the offensive line would be really nice for our recruiting, which has had a tough time of late with Colorado linemen.
The other guys: Stephane Nembot, Mark Mustoe, and Dannewitz. Nembot has already earned one title: he has taken over for Conrad Obi as the most physically intimidating guy on our team. He is a lean 310 lbs at 6'8" and it sounds like he is doing well after switching from defensive line to offense. He is currently running behind Harris at right tackle, and who knows, may even push him for playing time. He has crazy-long arms, an NFL body already and all the potential in the world. If coach Steve Marshall can work a little magic, this guy could be something special. I can't wait to hear how he does. Mustoe also has solid size, at 6'7" 280 lbs and we'll see which side he gets more time on. In the little I've seen of him, he looks to have the right disposition for the O-Line and he's a Colorado Kid. Dannewitz will be in the mix here as well, though he doesn't quite have the footspeed that the other guys do.
The Final Four (plus one):
We know who the best lineman we have is: David Bakhtiari. After that we are left to guess. The next tier probably includes Handler and Harris, but they may find themselves in intense battles to retain their starting spots this spring. After that it is even murkier. I say Alex Lewis, but that's the whole point of this questions: Who will it be?
I have been wrong countless times, but I see it going something like this:
Am I playing it safe? Yes. What about the rest of you? Who are you most excited for this spring? What's your best guess at our offensive line going into the summer?