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Spring Recap: The Offensive Line

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Offensive linemen practice their post-snap positions during the University of Colorado's first football practice of the season on Tuesday. Photo: Marty Caivano
Offensive linemen practice their post-snap positions during the University of Colorado's first football practice of the season on Tuesday. Photo: Marty Caivano

Pre-Spring Thoughts:

Coming into spring ball, all we could really think about was the potential the offensive line had. Last year with the injuries to Ryan Miller, Mike Iltis and Max Tuioti-Mariner as well as other issues that plagued the offensive line, many young Buffs played and gained experience. When you looked at the 2009 roster before the start of spring, there were 12 players that were eligible for any one of the starting spots on the offensive line (that doesn't even count players like C Evan Eastburn and OT Ryan Dannewitz.)That is great depth and with many players getting a taste last year, it was easy to think that all of this competition would make the o-line that much better. Going into camp, you could guess that Ryan Miller (6'8 310 So.) and Nate Solder (6'9" 300 Jr.) had the inside track at both of the tackle positions with the three other spots open for battle. Optimistic was the best way to describe the offensive line.

But that optimism was tempered by the departure of 2008 offensive line coach, Jeff Grimes, to Auburn and the hiring of Denver Johnson, a former head coach of Murray State and Illinois State as well as the ACL injury to one time 2008 starting guard, Max Tuioti-Mariner (6'3" 300 RFr).

Prior to his head coaching stints, Denver Johnson worked his way through the ranks at Oklahoma State, Mississippi State and Oklahoma, gaining important Big 12 experience and establishing himself recruiting-wise in the state of Texas, something that made Buff fans excited.

As for MTM, the ACL injury was his third in as many years, something most of us cannot imagine returning from. Tuioti-Mariner showed why he was a top recruit in 2008 by quickly inserting himself into the starting lineup before he was lost early the season with his second ACL injury. He, as well as Ryan Miller, received a medical redshirt for last season, something that only increased the optimism around the future of the offensive line. MTM is still determined to come back and coach Dan Hawkins thinks that he can be ready for fall.

click after the jump to read the rest of the offensive line recap...

Post Spring Thoughts:

Starting with Denver Johnson, it seems like he has fit in extremely well with the offensive line as well as pleasing the fan base saying the Buffs were going to be more aggressive, playing on the opponents side of the ball. Johnson learned the terminology of the offensive line instead of instilling his own to keep the learning curve down, focusing more on changes in technique from the Grimes era, something that will pay dividends in the fall. Basically, Johnson's goal is turn the Buffs into a smash mouth team, something that fits the change in the overall offensive scheme. I think 9 out of 10 Buff fans would give an enthusiastic two thumbs up for the Denver Johnson hire thus far, with a perfect 10 coming if he can turn heads recruiting Texas.

On to the players. The first day of spring ball, the starting lineup was Solder at left tackle, Matt Bahr at left guard (6'4" 285 So.), Mike Iltis at center (6'3" 275 So.), Miller at right guard and initially surprising, Bryce Givens at right tackle (6'6" 275 R-Fr.). The move of Miller to guard and redshirt freshman, Bryce Givens, to right tackle came as a surprise to many Buff fans considering Miller's past starting experience at tackle but Denver Johnson stuck to his word; he wants the five best offensive lineman on the field. If you remember correctly, Givens was a four star recruit in 2008 but was about 250 pounds and had concussion issues. It looks like he has put the health concerns behind him and with the addition of 25 pounds to his 6'6" frame, he made himself a serious contender for the starting tackle spot. Solder and Givens are both big, athletic guys on the edge and should be a successful mainstay for the Buffs the next two years. At the conclusion of camp, Solder, Givens, Miller and Iltis found themselves in the same spots while the left guard spot is still up for grabs, in my opinion. Johnson is still trying to get a feel for all of his guys which would explain three different starters at the guard position this spring from Bahr to Sione Tau (6'5" 325 So.) to Ethan Adkins (6'4" 295 So.). Expect as many as six players battling for that one guard spot with the three I mentioned above as well as Shawn Daniels (6'3" 280 So.), Tuioti-Mariner and Blake Behrens (6'3" 290 So.) (all three out due to injury this spring) to have their shot.

As far as the performance this spring, it was a nice progression of results. With a new offensive line coach, Miller moving to guard, new starters at the other guard position as well as center and right tackle, everybody had to adapt and it took time to see the results on the field. I do have to say I am excited about the offensive line especially if we can solidify the guard spot. Hopefully Tuioti-Mariner or Behrens, who can gained experience last year, can step in and be a starter for the next three to four years.

The running game failed to really get going in the initial two scrimmages. The first scrimmage, the offense rushed for only 108 yards on 33 carries, good for a 3.3 average. No running back averaged over 4 yards a clip. The second scrimmage was not much better: 29 carries, 102 yards for an average of 3.5 ypc. The spring game was a different story, though. You could tell that the line had progressed and were more comfortable with the offense and the scheme. In a perfect way to end the spring session, the Buffs ran 50 times for 310 yards, an average of 6.2 per carry. All running backs went for over 5.5 yards an attempt, something that we expected based on the talent of the offensive line.

Injuries:

OG Max Tuioti-Mariner out for entire spring, OG Devin Head limited this spring, played in spring game, OG Blake Behrens limited/out this spring, OG Shawn Daniels limited/out this spring, OL Sione Tau did not play in spring game, missed a few practices for personal reasons after starting at left guard for the second week of spring. All expected to be ready for fall ball, doubt about MTM being ready.

Player(s) Who Emerged:

C Mike Iltis and RT Bryce Givens. Iltis has filled in nicely for last year's starter and stalwart, Daniel Sanders. Iltis is still learning this position and getting comfortable making the line calls but he never relinquished the center spot all spring. As for Givens, enough was said above about his successful offseason. Both Givens and Solder should be fun to watch at the tackle spots.

Final Assessment:

All things still look on the up and up. This squad is deep and if MTM comes back healthy, watch out. This unit has all the talent and it looks like the coaching to be very successful in the Big 12. A lot will be on the shoulders of the offensive line with a depleted wide receiver corp and a duo at quarterback that probably isn't going to beat anybody by themselves. The way this group goes, is the way the offense goes in 2009. The best part is they are still young, but experienced from last season!