Two years ago, I penned an entry ranking the best to worst offensive lines of the (then six year) Chuck Amato tenure. In retrospect, it is unanimously accepted that this position was in a swift downward spiral over the final few seasons of the Amato era. While no one could imagine the situation could get any worse than the 2006 debacle, it is also safe to say that this season’s crop stands to go down as the worst in program history, if not league history, and that is an amazing accomplishment given our historic futility. There are a number of factors for this troubling dilemma, chief among them, but not limited to:
1. The former staff’s general aversion to recruiting the position specifically, instead preferring to convert failed defensive lineman to the opposite side of the ball.
2. The same staff’s inability to develop and retain the very limited number of scholarship lineman it did manage to bring into the program.
3. Total, utter busts in evaluating and signing two Junior college signees (Kline and Falaise) and all five of the converted defensive lineman (McGhee, Miller, Lucas, Brown, and Smith)
4. A total wipeout of the 2004 offensive line group (would be this year’s Redshirt Junior/true Senior class)
Take one of these factors and you have a recipe for disaster, take all four and you have the current state (no pun) of Wolfpack football, where gaining 2 yards elicits sarcastic crowd jubilation, 3rd and inches limits your options to a quarterback sprint-out, knee injuries sideline your starting quarterback and tailback to all or parts of a season, and the offensive line is so horrifying they cannot even occasionally blow an assignment and accidentally block someone.
But the current condition of the line points to serious, systemic problems that will not be easily or quickly remedied. It will take no less than two years (in this writer’s estimation) to repair the damage caused by seven seasons of scholarship mismanagement, poor evaluation, even poorer coaching.
Consider the following:
• Including all positions, nine members, or 45%, of the 2003 recruiting class (this year’s redshirt senior class) have either departed the program prematurely or never arrived.
• Including all positions, five members, or 28%, of the 2004 recruiting class (this year’s redshirt junior or true senior class) have either departed the program prematurely or never arrived.
• Including all positions, six members, or 25%, of the 2005 recruiting class (this year’s redshirt sophomore or true junior class) have either departed the program prematurely or never arrived.
• Including all positions, four members, or 17%, of the 2006 recruiting class (this year’s redshirt freshman or true sophomore class) have either departed the program prematurely or never arrived.
• The entire 2004 recruiting class of four offensive linemen departed the program without earning a single varsity letter.
• Only 8 of the already low 15 scholarship offensive lineman signed between 2003 and 2006 classes are still in the program.
• 6 of the 7 scholarship offensive lineman who left the program never played a meaningful snap (i.e. never lettered)
We will lose two starters and a reserve guard and tackle to graduation after this season. There is no redshirt junior class behind them. That is right. The entire 2004 class of offensive lineman has already departed without earning a single letter.
Should the current playing rotation continue through seasons end, we will return three (McCuller, Williams, Crouch), maybe four (Vermiglio), players with any meaningful action.
One of my favorite features of the Wolfpacker magazine (which, despite my State Club contribution level and LTR ownership, I have not received an issue in over a year) is the preseason feature that recaps the career and status of each player of the last five recruiting classes. To the best of my recollection, I have done a similar recap focusing on the offensive line:
2003 (Player Name, Rivals ranking, career recap)
Kalani Heppe (3) – Redshirt Senior, starting Left Guard, two varsity letters
Luke Lathan (3) – Redshirt Senior, starting Center, two varsity letters
Yomi Ojo (3) – Redshirt Senior, backup guard, has played sparingly
Derek Morris (5) – Departed early as undrafted free agent for NFL after Junior season, started at Right Tackle most of three seasons.
Merci Falaise (3) – Never lettered/eligibility expired
Lamart McGhee (3) – Never lettered/left program
Gerard Miller (3) – Never lettered/left program
Shane Lucas (3) – Never lettered/left program
Andy Barbee (3) – Redshirt Sophomore – yet to letter
Quentin Brown (3) – Never lettered/left program after getting mugged, then shot near campus (*Note: can’t blame the kid for this one…)
Curtis Crouch (4) – Junior – starting Right Guard, two varsity letters
Garrett Kline (4) – Senior – has neither lettered or played
Jerrail McCuller (2) – Redshirt Sophomore – slated to start Right Tackle, suspended for DUI arrest
Julian Williams (3) – Redshirt Sophomore – starting Left Tackle, first season of action
Gary Gregory (2) – Redshirt Freshman- backup guard, has played sparingly
Gavin Smith (3) – Left program
Mike Golder (2) – Redshirt candidate
Henry Lawson (2) – Redshirt candidate
Desmond Roberts (3) – Redshirt candidate
Jake Vermiglio (3) – Freshman – backup tackle, has played sparingly
Justin Whaley (2) – Redshirt candidate
Andrew Wallace (3)
Zach Allen (2)
2008 Key Prospects
JR Mattes (4)
Nik Becton (3)
While I have confidence in our new staff’s ability to not only coach the position, but to manage us out of today’s dire situation through effective recruiting, scholarship retention, and player development, there are a few things I believe will accelerate the path to recovery:
1. Recruit smaller, more agile offensive lineman
An athletic 255-270 pound high school kid can grow into an athletic 285-300 pound college offensive lineman who can move their feet and get their pads on another similarly sized man. A 290-300 pound high school kid will probably grow into a fat, slow 320-335 pound worthless slob so blubbery he can neither move his feet, nor get his hands on anything, including his cock and balls when necessary to man-up.
It is also important to acknowledge that we do not have the position legacy of a Nebraska, Oklahoma, Georgia, Tennessee, or Michigan. That said, there is a reason why the remaining 300+ pound offensive lineman prospects not grabbed by the aforementioned programs (and others) remain on the market. They are generally fat, slow, and weak.
Wake Forest, Boston College and (to a lesser degree Appalachian State) do just fine going out and getting the sloppy seconds that the UNCs and NC States of the world passed over – - smaller, agile players who can thrive within a system that rewards lineman who can effectively pull block and get out on the edge to chip faster linebackers.
Target and sign every smart, athletic 255-270 pound kid who will work hard, lift smart, run in the off -season, and understand that it may be at least three years before they see the field, which is the plan anyway.
Thus far, each of the signees and/or key position recruits seems to fit this mold.
2. Sign no fewer than four offensive linemen in each recruiting class.
You simply cannot sandwich a class like 2005 between classes like 2004 and 2006. It forces otherwise promising players to play prematurely (i.e. before their at-least redshirt Sophomore year). Recruit the position consistently each year, and do not allow for otherwise natural attrition to cause gaps that destroy programs.
I am not a big advocate of the junior college route, as that has not worked out for us in most circumstances, especially at the offensive line position. Looking over the scholarship numbers by class, we will probably need to ink six offensive lineman in the 2008 class. If there is a can’t miss prospect in the JUCO ranks available, it wouldn’t hurt to bring him in as a gapfill to the 2004 debacle.
3. Recruit lineman with leadership qualities and foster unity among the position group.
Growing up close to the Clemson program in the eighties, I know firsthand that Danny Ford and staff built and fed a pipeline of great offensive lineman over many years. I don’t mean NFL great necessarily, but 250 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry great. Ten wins per season great. There was a bond and unity most apparent late in the fourth quarter of close games when they took command of the huddle and proceeded to will their way to key first down yardage. His linemen were close-knit and were vocal, respected team players who frequently stepped forward as the emotional, unquestionable leaders of the program.
We saw a glimpse of that with Colmer, Kooistra, Locklear, Riggs, and Paulsen most recently, and further back in spots during the O’Cain and Sheridan years.
So what might things look like in two years? Here is a best case summary, assuming no further attrition and no Junior College are signed as in-fills between now and then:
- 2009 Offensive Line Depth Chart
LT Jerrail McCuller R-Sr
LG Mike Golder R-So
C Desmond Roberts R-So
RG Jake Vermiglio Jr
RT Julian Williams R-Sr
LT Gary Gregory R-Jr
LG Henry Lawson R-So
C Andy Barbee R-Sr
RG Justin Whaley R-So
RT Andrew Wallace R-Fr
LT TBD R-Fr
LG TBD R-Fr
C Zach Allen R-Fr
RG TBD R-Fr
RT TBD R-Fr
Four TBD freshmen redshirt candidates.
So from here forward, we need to sign four more offensive linemen in the 2008 class (in addition to the two verbal commitments – Wallace and Allen) and at least four offensive line in the 2009 class. We also need to stay healthy and retain all existing scholarship players. These are not givens, by any means.
I will defer to other poster(s) the analysis of our other gaping deficiencies (LB, DB, QB, kicker, etc.)