2009 OFFENSIVE LINE PREVIEW
Today, we’re taking a look at the offensive line. Gone from last year are Keith Gergel and Al Jefferson, literally, the right side of our line. They were solid last year, with Gergel taking 2nd Team All-OVC honors. In losing Gergel to graduation, we lost not only a 6’4”, 302 lb tackle, but someone that played in 37 of 43 games over the last 4 seasons, starting in 30 of those games. Al Jefferson also graduates. Jefferson was a starter at guard for the last 3 full seasons. That’s a lot of games to replace, but the offensive line will be in good hands.
Late last week, I got a chance to talk by phone with Offensive Line Coach, Scott Smouse. Coach Smouse graduated from Appalachian State University in 2000, and then spent one season as a graduate assistant at Duke University, where he worked with the defense. He earned his master’s degree in Kinesiology from LSU in 2005. Smouse then spent two years at LSU as a graduate assistant, working with the offensive line, under Nick Saban, winning the BCS National Championship in 2003. Coach Smouse shared some of his thoughts about the offensive line for the 2009 season.
What starters are coming back?
Anchoring the O-Line at center, will be senior Reggie Wade (6’1”, 285). Before coming to JSU, Wade played at Northeast Mississippi Community College. He played in the Triumphant Sports Bowl in 2007, which is a junior college all-star game. Coach Smouse on Reggie – “Center is the toughest position on the offensive line, and Reggie did an excellent job for us last year. Reggie is a leader.”
Rising junior Curt Porter, (6’7”, 290) will start at left tackle again for the 2009 season. Smouse said of Porter, “Curt is a solid player. He did a great job last year. He started every game. We’ll miss the leadership of Keith Gergel. He was like having a coach on the field. But with Curt Porter and Reggie Wade, we’ll have great leadership. As a group, we’ll be better”. Porter was being recruited by SEC schools until suffering a knee injury. He has great size and ability.
Matt Jones, (6’3”, 305) started every game as a true freshman last season at left guard. Jones played at Hoover High School and was a second-team All-State selection as a senior, helping the Bucs advance to the Class 6A Championship game. He was also a member of Hoover’s 2005 Class 6A Championship team, so he knows what it takes to win. Coach Smouse said, “Matt did a great job, starting every game as a true freshman. You never know how that will work; going from high school to college competition, but Matt stepped right in. Matt will have another good season.”
Who steps up?
I asked Coach Smouse what we should expect to see this year, and who will step up to replace Gergel and Jefferson. He said, “We have some players who are ready to step in and contribute. I’ve seen good things from Tori Mobley (6’3”, 280). He will be a redshirt-freshman. We’re working him at right and left tackle, trying to find the best fit.”
Coach Smouse also mentioned Justin Kay (6’3”, 290). “Justin is working at right tackle and guard. He’s from Vestavia Hills and he’s really doing a great job. Justin will be a junior. We’ll see him contribute on the line this year.” Justin transferred to JSU after originally playing at Army.
“Tyler Chambers (6’3”, 290, rising sophomore) and Tyler Ogletree (6’1”, 295, rising junior) both saw playing time last season. They’re both working hard now to get ready for next season.” Of note, Chambers originally committed to Marshall.
As I attended the scrimmage on Saturday, I saw Devon Hayes (6’5”, 310, rising junior) getting plenty of action at guard. Taylor Chambers (6’3”, 280) also got in on the action. A couple of other players to watch are center Josh Carroll (6’1”, 290, rising senior) and guards Matt Washington (6’3” 275, rising junior), and Mark Bounds (6’2”, 290).
The offensive line looks big and experienced for next season. In addition, there is depth, something we really didn’t have last year. Coach Smouse added, “We were able to redshirt six players last season. They will all be available this year. We’re much deeper now than we were in the fall.” The depth gives us the luxury of working in some rotations, which will mean fresher legs on those 4th quarter drives. I am hoping to get a look at a depth chart once things fall into place after spring drills. While talking about depth, I asked about signees. We will have Ricky Clemons (6’5”, 300) and Colt Kennedy (6’6”, 290) coming in as freshmen. Smouse told me, “It’s too early to tell right now (about playing time for the upcoming season), but they’ve got some talent. We just need to get them here and take a look. We need to see them work against college talent.”
Overall, we have a good balance of seasoned veterans and others with varying levels of game experience. Even the guys with little to no college game experience are prepared to step up. The emphasis on signing linemen is expected to pay off over the next couple of years. And this season, we could really use some people stepping up into big roles. We start off with GA Tech again, and it doesn’t get any easier the next week at Florida State. Coach Smouse added, “The schedule doesn’t do us any favors this year. We’re comfortable playing in Paul Snow Stadium, and we start off this coming season with four straight games on the road.” He says they will be ready for the challenge though.
As we were concluding our call, Coach Smouse mentioned the running game. “I’m excited because we have some very talented running backs. High-quality running backs can make an offensive line look good.” A superior line can make a running back look good, too. My amateur assessment is that we are in great shape on the O-line for the coming season.