Offensive line play is the key for any offense, no matter how good the play calling might be. The excitement over having an offensive minded coach taking over has been well documented as well as the talent Petrino has inherited. One question mark that still looms is whether or not the offensive line play will improve from the last few years. Petrino has brought in veteran coach Chris Klenakis to help improve a unit that struggled with run blocking as well as pass protection last season.
Louisville brings back every player that started the bowl game but have already made changes in fall camp. Jake Smith looks to be moving back to his natural position at guard. Smith started at center last year after the departure of Mario Benavides. Smith is a mainstay on the line and he's much better as a guard in my opinion. His athleticism can be utilized when pulling on run plays and his experience will be needed as Petrino's offense requires it's line to be able to flip depending on certain play calls. Smith should handle this change pretty well.
John Miller will man the opposite guard position for the fourth straight year. Miller has only missed a few starts as a Cardinal and he has been a staple at left guard for three years. Miller has been playing on the "strong side" of the offensive line from what I've seen in practices which makes sense as he hasn't always been great as a pulling guard.
The most noticeable physical change has been with tackle Jamon Brown. Brown has always been a massive human being, but he has shed a ton of weight and he is down to 326 pounds. I can count on one hand how many times we saw a screen play run by the previous staff but that will change immediately this season. Lineman will be asked to be able to not only get to the second level on running plays, but to be able to get down field on screen plays. Brown's slim down should help him be a more well rounded lineman.
Petrino made it clear that he was not satisfied with the offensive line when he arrived and he went to the JUCO ranks to try to add depth to the position. Kelby Johnson has quickly made his way into the front of the line to man the tackle spot on the weak side. Johnson doesn't carry a lot of weight which should help with going against speed rushers. But, against big ends like Mario Edwards, he might struggle. Ryan Mack also got first team reps in the open scrimmage after spending time with the first team at guard the week before. Mack has played both during his time here but he has struggled mightily in pass protection. Having more than one option is a positive, but it also shows that the position has not been solidified.
Former walk-on Tobijah Hughley immediately impressed the new coaching staff when they took over. Hughley took every snap with the first team during the open scrimmage even though he didn't practice with the veterans the week before. It seemed to me that the staff wanted to see how Mack played at guard and wasn't pleased with what they saw. Hughley looks to be the guy at center and I didn't see anything in the scrimmage to make me think he won't do well there. He held his ground well and I think he will be quick enough to pull, which is something Smith did well in the open practices while at center.
Chris Acosta and Aaron Epps both got reps with the first team during practice but both will more than likely be backup this year. Acosta started a few games later in the season last year including the bowl game. Acosta has always been underweight and seems to be a guy that just struggles to gain mass. I think the skill is there, but it's not easy to get push against 300 pounders when you're giving up 25 pounds. Epps has had the same weight issues since coming in as a 250 pound tackle. He's up to 299 pounds and he looked to be playing well during practice. I would think that he has a good chance to push Mack and Johnson if they struggle.
Depth has been a concern that Petrino has mentioned multiple times. I didn't personally see anything during the open practices or the scrimmage that would make me think that those concerns have been fully taken care of. The previous staff didn't ever really seem to have a specific type of lineman it recruited. They liked a power running attack, but guys like Acosta, Epps, and T.C. Klusman who were very undersized recruits were brought in. With only one lineman committed to the upcoming class, it will be interesting to see if Petrino looks to add a few JUCO guys to help replace the three seniors that will be leaving after this year.
AROUND THE ACC
Erving is a prototype tackle. He has great height and long arms with enough mass to get push but not too much that he can't move his feet. Erving had a great game against All-American Vic Beasley last year, handling Beasley's speed and quickness with ease at times.
at 330 pounds, Jackson is a massive offensive guard and as you might imagine he excels at run blocking. He's athletic enough to get out on screens and get to the second level which is impressive for a guy his size. If there is an area he "struggles" it would probably be in pass protection.
Tomlinson has the most Duke name in the history of Duke. He's also a huge guard that does a little bit of everything. He's a better pass protector than run blocker in my opinion, but I think that's partially because Duke runs a spread style attack.
A redshirt senior, Gallik anchors the line for BC's improving offense. A tackle in high school, Gallik has moved inside at BC and is listed on this year's preseason Rimington Watch List.
Syracuse doesn't have a lot of talent to keep an eye on, but Hickey is a legit NFL prospect at left tackle. Hickey has insanely long arms and he does very well against speed off the edge. He even caught a pass last year that almost went for a touchdown.
NEXT IN LINE:
Flowers was overshadowed last year by big named players Santreal Henderson and Brandon Linder. This year, Flowers will be tasked with protecting a new quarterback well enough that Duke Johnson isn't running into 8 man fronts.
K.C. is in a battle right now to play opposite of Flowers. A true freshman, McDermott joined his brother at Miami and was a big pickup for a line that lost two players to the NFL.