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August 6, 2009

Countdown 2009: Improving the offensive line

With August training camp just a week away we continue on with our Texas A&M position previews in the Countdown to 2009 with the offensive line. The Aggies were quite dismal on the offensive line in 2008 with little experience and even worse depth. A&M literally had only one true tackle on the line and basically had multiple players play through a load of injuries. The 2009 season, however, should see some relief, but this is one of the major areas to keep track of this August.

Offensive Line 101


Departed Starters: Travis Schneider

Returning Starters: Lee Grimes, Kevin Matthews, Michael Shumard, Evan Eike

Freshman Impact: Stephen Barrera, Rhontae Scales

Position Changes: Lucas Patterson (OT from DT)

OVERVIEW:

Last season, A&M's offensive line was in disarray with injuries and just not any depth. The Aggies had one true tackle in the starting lineup in the now departed Travis Schneider and with Schneider in and out with injuries the Aggies moved Grimes from guard to tackle.

In 2009, the Aggies have more depth but the ability of the line as a unit is in question. That's because the Aggie coaching staff has made some moves to get different players on the field. Back is Matthews at center and Shumard, a natual guard, has moved back inside to guard after playing left tackle in 2008 in order to allow Patterson to move into the left tackle spot after moving from the defensive side of the ball from defensive tackle.

Grimes, who took over for the injured Schneider at right tackle in 2008, will continue to play outside at right tackle while the right guard position could be up for grabs in August camp. The odds-on favorite is LSU transfer Matt Allen, but Eike should be give him a solid challenge.

The Aggies also have added a lot of depth with the recruiting class of 2008 that redshirted last season and a few tackles in the recruiting class of 2009 that could push for early playing time. From the 2008 class, Brian Thomas could work his way into a spot at guard as could sophomore Danny Baker who should also serve as the back-up center to Matthews.

THE VETERANS: Kevin Matthews, Michael Shumard

A&M's offensive line has plenty of veteran with Shumard and Grimes, but Matthews has been the rock in the middle and quite frankly the most consistent player on the line from last season. The former walk-on and son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews sat out the spring after offseason surgery, and it was evident how important Matthews is to the offensive line.

Shumard is another senior on the line who will move back inside to his natural guard position after playing tackle last season. He'll bring more senior leadership to the line along with Matthews and Grimes and will be much more effective at guard.

THE WARRIOR: Lee Grimes

Last season, Grimes made the move from guard to tackle out of necessity. By the end of the season he was playing through countless injuries - shoulder, two knees, finger, toe and other injuries that I basically can't remember. Yet, without complaining, Grimes went out and battled against the best defensive linemen in the Big 12 conference every weekend without question.

Whether Grimes can stay healthy is a major question as he has been riddled with injuries throughout his career, losing two seasons of his career to ACL injuries. One thing is crystal clear, however. As long as Grimes can go out on the field, he'll be out on the field.

KEEP A CLOSE EYE ON: Lucas Patterson

There might not be a more important player in August camp than Patterson who is making the move from defensive tackle where he started for two seasons to the all important left tackle position on the offensive line. After missing spring drills due to offseason surgery, August camp is extremely important to his development at a new position as well as the development of the line as a unit.

The Aggies are putting a lot on Patterson's shoulders because if he doesn't work out at the position, then the Aggies are in dire straits once again without a true tackle to plug into the starting lineup. To say that August camp is important for Patterson is a gross understatement.

WATCH OUT FOR THE FISH: Stephen Barrera

Barrera was just a three-star prospect coming out of high school after playing on the defensive line, but everyone knew that Barrera would be an offensive tackle at the next level and a good one at that. Offseason reports are already pointing to Barrera being a player that could possibly play as a true freshman in a backup capacity, which is usually unheard of at the position. If Barrera really takes off in August camp and proves that he can start at right tackle, then Grimes could make the move back inside to guard which is a more natural position for him.

Also keep an eye on Rhontae Scales and Patrick Lewis. Scales is another tackle that could make noise in camp while Lewis is a bull of an interior lineman that can play guard or center. Scales, however, has a much better chance to get playing time at tackle than Lewis does since the interior line is crowded with players.

EXPECTATIONS:

A&M is hoping that moving Patterson to left tackle will shore up the offensive line, or at least the starting unit. If it works out, the Aggies could have a much improved offensive line that could anchor one of the more prolific offenses in recent A&M history.

If it doesn't work, however, then the Aggies are back to square one with little depth at the tackle position. But Patterson has been great after being moved to defensive tackle as a redshirt freshman and it would be surprising should he fail. With him outside, Shumard and Matthews gives the Aggies a decent left side of the line. On the other side, Grimes, if he can stay healthy, is an effective right tackle while the Aggies have plenty of players to plug in at right guard, led by Allen.

A&M won't have the depth problems it had last season, but injuries could still spell plenty of trouble, especially at tackle. The expectations, however, are that this offensive line will be much improved from a year ago.

Offensive Line Coach Jim Turner: At A Glance
Age: 44
College: Boston College '88
Experience: 17 years
A&M Tenure: Second season
Career Highlights: Coached his high school alma mater in 1988 before becoming the offensive coordinator of the Kent Rams in London, England. He served in the marine corps as an infantry officer from 1990-94 before getting back into coaching. Turner has coached at Northeastern, Temple, Louisiana Tech, Harvard, Delaware and Boston College.

Countdown 2009:

Quarterback
Running Backs
Wide Receivers


Tight ends

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