OL: The death spiral, the long road to recovery, and three steps to get there

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

2008 Commits

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

1st Team

LT Jerrail McCuller R-Sr

LG Mike Golder R-So

C Desmond Roberts R-So

RG Jake Vermiglio Jr

RT Julian Williams R-Sr

2nd Team

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

3rd Team



C Zach Allen 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.)

About Dogbreath

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Chuck Amato General NCS Football

49 Responses to OL: The death spiral, the long road to recovery, and three steps to get there

  1. VaWolf82 09/23/2007 at 10:50 PM #

    Nice documentation on one of the key issues impacting the program. The QB position is just as depressing, but much easier to keep track of.

    One piece of advice for formatting. Single hard returns do nothing. Multiple hard returns will only insert a single blank line no matter how many you hard returns show up in the editing window.

    Insert at the end for a line break. Multiple will give you multiple blank lines.

  2. VaWolf82 09/23/2007 at 10:52 PM #

    Crap. The symbol for line break didn’t show up.

    Put _br_ in between

  3. VaWolf82 09/23/2007 at 10:53 PM #

    So none of the symbols show up. Put _br_ in between the left and right “carrot” symbols.

  4. noah 09/23/2007 at 11:10 PM #

    I tend to believe that Amato’s ultimate fate was sealed when he chose to wait until after the Sugar Bowl to take the job. Remember that every coach from O’Cain’s staff was fired except for Joe Pate and Robbie Caldwell. Amato never got a shot to retain Caldwell…O’Cain convinced him to come to UNC with him.

    IMO, Caldwell is one of the best OL evaluators and coaches in college football. He’s fantastic at being able to spot a guy like Ian Rafferty, Todd Boyle, Jarvis Borum or Chris Colmer — a lightly recruited guy with good feet, a great frame and a ton of potential — and then steadily build that guy into a top notch tackle.

    Even during the worst years under O’Cain, we still had solid OL play. The problem was our DL, never the OL.

    But…I have to say, it’s inaccurate to say our problems this year lie solely with the off. line. You really need to look at how poor our linebackers have played as well.

  5. Elrod 09/23/2007 at 11:12 PM #

    As another contributing factor, I believe I would add “The revolving door of ineffective OL coaches”.

  6. Dogbreath 09/23/2007 at 11:15 PM #

    Good point Noah.

    I also thought Galbraith was quite good, he did yeoman’s work with the patchwork 2000 line (David Green, Weir, William Brown, Colmer, and Poole). 2001 line improved incrementally, and the 2002 line was perhaps our program’s finest.

    Then, like so many others, he wore tired of Amato’s shit and moved on.

    A good but not great OC, but a very good offensive line coach in my estimation.

  7. Dogbreath 09/23/2007 at 11:17 PM #


    to your last point, see the final line of my entry and have at it…

  8. Mike 09/23/2007 at 11:48 PM #

    Here is one for all of you to ponder. Kid named Greco completed 10-11 passes for about 150 and ran for about 70 more. Granted, he is playing 2nd string at UCF, but wonder what he could do for us.

  9. wolfonthehill 09/24/2007 at 8:52 AM #

    ^ He could scramble on every play, panic, and throw picks. Not necessarily “would”, but definitely “could”.

  10. Sw0rdf1sh 09/24/2007 at 8:52 AM #

    Great article on the OL and I would love to see Becton bring it to Raleigh.

  11. LRM 09/24/2007 at 8:56 AM #

    Interesting analysis.

    From a purely subjective standpoint, I’d have to imagine that as tough as it is for NFL teams to evaluate the potential of OLs, it has to be much tougher to evaluate them at the high school level. I think that’s why it’s so important we have someone on staff to focus on them and develop the position.

  12. RAWFS 09/24/2007 at 9:21 AM #

    Amato sealed his fate when he let Marty Galbraith go, IMO. We haven’t had Jack Squat for an offense since.

  13. roandaddy 09/24/2007 at 9:32 AM #

    OL is the one position that takes YEARS to develop. You could recruit 10 OL in this class, but they won’t be game ready for at least 2 or 3 years. First year to redshirt.. gain weight, strenght, etc. The issue now is its a position that has been neglected for so long. We aren’t deep enough to move DL to OL for a quick fix.. its going to take a few years. The typical solution is to move to a spread offense (aka the CTC crazy line formations), but then it puts pressure on our QBs.
    It will be fixed, it will just take time.

  14. noah 09/24/2007 at 9:38 AM #

    What evidence suggests that it’s difficult for the NFL to evaluate off. linemen? Every draft review I’ve read tends to suggest that, with the exception of QB, the success/failure rate of a particular pick is not dependent on the position, but rather the particular slot of the pick.

    In other words, X percent of #1 overall picks succeed/fail, X minus (whatever) percent of #2 overall picks succeed/fail, X minus (somethingortheother) percent of #100 overall picks succeed/fail.

    There’s some truth to the belief that the further away from the ball you play, the sooner you’re ready for action (safeties, RBs and receivers first, LBs and CBs second, linemen third, QBs fourth).

    Regarding the success/failure rate of our own linemen, I think we’ve really only had one true blue chip, highly-recruited lineman since…gosh, since Scott Adell (1987). And even that one lineman (D. Morris) came with an asterisk. Morris was a terrific athlete for his size, but remember, he came here AFTER spending some time at OSU. I know there were a lot of things tossed around about rules and academics, but I always wondered if perhaps the coaches realized that he wasn’t worth the effort and just cut him loose. That’s basically what happened to the other big-time OL recruit from NC that year (the kid that went to Tennessee and then tried to get into NC State and ended up somewhere like Newberry College).

    Leroy Harris was pretty highly regarded (top 10 in-state), but it was as a DT, not an OL.

    When Doc Holliday was getting into doors that no one else on the staff seemed to be able to crack, we were getting involved with guys like Davin Joseph, Max Jean Giles, and Aubrey McPhadden. We didn’t land any of them, of course, but were were recruiting them.

    Considering the lack of success FSU and Miami have had the last couple of years with their OL, I’m wondering if the problem was that we were fishing in over-taxed waters. Florida SEEMS to be the kind of place where you can just throw out a line and find DBs and WRs all over the place. If you look a little closer, you can find some LBs. A tremendous number of 5-10 to 6-2 guys with speed. It does not appear, however, to be over-burdened with the same number of 6-5, 300 pound guys with athleticism. (during my last trip to S. Florida, I saw lots of 300 pound men, but they were wearing sandals with black socks, were busy telling kids to get the hell off their lawns, and probably didn’t have any eligibility left.)

    For the OL, there appears to be a swath of land stretching from Lawn Guyland, across Jersey, over Pennsylvania and into Ohio where you can find those guys. I mention that because O’Brien had about five minutes to assemble his first class at State and found Jake Vermiglio with relative ease.

    So…it could be that we were looking in the wrong place. Or it could have been that the previous staff wouldn’t know a good line prospect if it was highlighted, asterisked, and stapled to their forehead. We DID offer one particular prospect extremely early (which he accepted) and I still don’t know what the hell anyone was thinking. I won’t mention his name…but the first time I saw him run the 40, he looked like he was running on two broken legs. And it took him over seven seconds to complete it. (there was a guy at the same combine who was actually slower. He was a big, goofy 6-10 kid who had dyed his hair green and looked like he had stuck a couple of shower curtain rings in his ears — really — and he took almost 10 seconds to run the 40. So, I guess it could have been worse.)

  15. noah 09/24/2007 at 9:40 AM #

    A couple of people slipped in…two things, Galbraith wasn’t let go. He was hired by the KC Chiefs, so that was a no-brainer. Secondly, Robbie Caldwell once said that in an ideal world, you wouldn’t even play an OL until their redshirt junior year.

  16. newt 09/24/2007 at 9:43 AM #

    I think there’s already been talking of going the JC route, which I think is the way to go.

    I believe that strategy is mentioned in The Wolfpacker and the Xanga NC State football blogger mentions it in his Sep. 10 post. http://www.xanga.com/home.aspx?user=NCStatefootball

    It would nice to get a couple of guys who could step in next year.

  17. RedTerror29 09/24/2007 at 10:16 AM #

    In theory you shouldn’t ever need JC guys, but yeah, we need a JC OL or two.

    I recall seeing bust rates for draft picks by positions and there was some variance. It was inversely related to how valuable the position was. So safeties had the lowest bust rates and QBs/left tackles the highest. Which makes sense; coaches/GMs are more willing to take a chance at a position that can make a real impact.

    TOB has said the same thing about recruiting OL – you don’t go to Florida to find those kids, you go to the midwest. If he can beat UNC in-state, recruit well in the Tidewater region, go grab some skill guys from FL and some OL from the midwest we’ll have a damn good team on our hands.

  18. packgrad2000 09/24/2007 at 10:21 AM #

    I have no worries at all that TOB will assemble one of the best OL’s in the ACC, if not THE best, in a few years. That is his strength. I remember under O’Cain how bad our DL always was and when Amato came in I was optimistic that we’d finally get a real D-line…which we did. Two years ago we had the best D-line in the entire nation…with one of the worst offense in the country.
    It’s just seems like we sacrifice one for the other. I want a team with solid play all around. I know coaches have their strengths, but I just hope three years from now we’re not sitting here talking about what poor skill position people we have.
    But if I had to choose, I’d rather have a strong OL and DL with average running backs. But I’d REALLY like to have my cake and eat it too.

  19. GoldenChain 09/24/2007 at 10:50 AM #

    I would like to point that that the D Line recruiting must not have been good either.
    The last game the Pack gave up 200 yards of rushing was in 2000. This season, we’ve done it 4 TIMES IN A ROW!

    So we’re taking D linemen and making them O linemen just so we can sux equally on both sides of the ball?!

    (Of course our DB’s didn’t look like they could run a 5.5 40 on Saturday.)

  20. PAPacker 09/24/2007 at 11:05 AM #

    Before this year, we had not allowed 200 yards rushing in a game since 2000? Really?

  21. Mr O 09/24/2007 at 11:05 AM #

    Our performance on Saturday reminded me of the MOC era. Back when we just didn’t have the athletes to compete with good teams. We just don’t have the horses unfortunately and it could take 3-5 years for us to become competitive again if our last two recruiting class rankings are accurate.

    I was quite impressed with Clemson. How many of our guys could start at Clemson? Blackman and a healthy Demario Pressley might be the only two and even those might be stretching it.

    BC looked good also, but I thought Clemson was more athletic and had better speed IMO so I like Clemson to win the Atlantic at this point. Of course, scheduling inequities could still come into play and get Wake Forest back in the hunt(especially if they keep getting miracle victories like the one on Saturday).

  22. BoKnowsNCS71 09/24/2007 at 11:14 AM #

    JC’s — sounds like a good strategy for outsourcing our OL.

  23. noah 09/24/2007 at 11:20 AM #

    Here’s something to remember about JUCOs: Jeff Ruiz was a JUCO All-American who averaged about 45 yards a punt last year.

    He’s currently our third-string punter. How f-ing AWFUL must he be to be the THIRD-string punter on this squad? What…his foot fell off? I am pretty sure that our fourth-string punter…is me.

    A “yard” in JUCO must be different than it is in D1.

  24. noah 09/24/2007 at 11:20 AM #

    (perhaps 45 yards was the cumulative distance that his punts travelled?)

  25. Great Dane Guy 09/24/2007 at 11:26 AM #

    That was a fantastic article, dogbreath. I had no idea we had lost an entire class. I have always viewed it from a coaching perspective also. When Amato hired his last OL coach, a young guy with NO OL coaching experience, I knew things would be bad. Plus, State had, what, 3 line coaches in 4 years now? If the kids we have now can actually spend some time with the same coaches for more than 1 season, it should also make a big difference. I’m not so much worried about the skill position guys, because a strong, confident OL will make an average QB and RB look good.

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