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B1G 2018 Spring Position Preview: Offensive Line

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You cannot go off tackle without a tackle.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Now is a time to recognize the people who make football possible - the offensive linemen. They do the dirty work that allows wide receivers to be divas; form a pocket so pretty boy quarterbacks may remain pretty; and they keep slashing running backs off of crutches. They make all the statistics possible, yet have only one stat that damns them - sacks allowed. It is a thankless gig.

In 1964, Justice Potter Stewart tried to explain pornography by saying, “I know it when I see it.” Many football fans feel the same way about good (or bad) offensive line play. Do not be discouraged. You do not have to quantify it, necessarily, but you should appreciate it. A great lineman (Joe Thomas) might play on a lousy line. A line without a pro prospect can be dominant. Good line play can be magical. Often it is magical with a case of heat rash, but that goes with the territory. Give them the reverence they are due, is what I am saying.

First, let us look back. A review of last season’s statistics provides insight into the state of offensive line play in the conference. The Purdue Boilermakers improved markedly across the board. Nebraska could pass block, but could not move people off the line in the run game. Wisconsin was overpowering at times, and Ohio State remained explosive. Michigan State’s predictable offense led to a very high stuff rate, but the Spartans were strong in pass protection. The Penn State Nittany Lions owe success to quality skill players, and they still have a way to go in the offensive trenches. That was the descriptive part.

Second, the predictive part. Let me start by saying that I have very little idea. The group dynamic of an offensive line can be a mystery to insiders, even more so to someone at a distance. An undersized center who makes good line calls can make a line better, and a physically dominant tackle can ruin a pass protection. It is bizarre. Anyone who says they know how each team’s offensive line will gel is lying to you.

What I can say with confidence is that Wisconsin will be damn good, that the sun sets in the west, and that water is wet. Ohio State will also be dominant.

Per the Wisconsin Football 2018 Spring Prospectus: “On the offensive line, UW returns 3 All-Americans (RG Beau Benzschawel, LT Michael Deiter and RT David Edwards) and a freshman All-American (C Tyler Biadasz). Those four started every game for UW in 2017.” Yeah. The Wisconsin Badgers will make up a disproportionate part of the all-conference team.

The Ohio State Buckeyes will be loaded as always. They seem to be concerned about the center position after Billy Price moved on. Somehow, someway I figure they will find a warm body to fill that spot. Michael Jordan will continue a fine career at guard; while Branden Bowen will hold down a tackle spot.

Which team will have the third-best offensive line? That is the real question.

The Michigan Wolverines return starting left guard Ben Bredeson, as well as Cesar Ruiz, Michael Onwenu, Jon Runyan, Nolan Ulizio and Juwann Bushell-Beatty, players who all started games or saw significant action.

The Iowa Hawkeyes were held to less than 100 yards rushing in five games last season, so Coach Ferentz is looking for a big step forward this year. Tackle Alaric Jackson is coming of a freshman All-American season, but he was suspended for the Pinstripe Bowl. Tristan Wirfs saw action last year and is likely to man the other tackle position. Iowa is another team looking for a center – as James Daniels departed early for the NFL. Senior Keegan Render is his likely successor.

The Michigan State Spartans lost center Brian Allen to graduation, but four starters and seven lettermen return. This is both good news and bad news - the Spartans were inefficient with their ground game last year. Another year of experience should help.

Big Red is a mystery with the transition to an up-tempo offense under Scott Frost. The Nebraska Cornhuskers return Jerald Foster at guard and Brenden Jaimes at tackle. Center was a particularly weak spot last year and Michael Decker and Cole Conrad will compete for the starting position again. Some of last season’s running game woes can be attributed to the absence of group work in practice (wtf?) and the fact that squats were removed from the training regimen (double wtf?). There is a new sheriff in town, and hopefully the faithful will see a difference.

Judging from the scarcity of player nominations from my fellow “writers,” it appears that the offensive line is greatly underappreciated. WE MUST REMEDY THIS! These guys should not be considered an “afterthought.” They are not the “last person picked on the playground.” They are not “gout survivors.” They are the engine that propels any self-respecting B1G team to dominance. They are the necessary, if not always sufficient, ingredient for a championship season. Show the big uglies some love. Honor them!

Please speak up for your favorite linemen in the space below. Please tell me who I have omitted. Who have I sold short? Do any of you know what a scoop step is? Can anyone explain the trap concept to your fellow readers? Tell me about Minnesota. Mention Penn State, if you must.

Poll

Which team will have the third-best offensive line?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Iowa
    (81 votes)
  • 12%
    Michigan
    (44 votes)
  • 22%
    Michigan State
    (81 votes)
  • 13%
    Nebraska
    (48 votes)
  • 9%
    Peter Townsend Mote, Esq.
    (33 votes)
  • 7%
    Purduer
    (27 votes)
  • 13%
    Other, please explain in comments
    (48 votes)
362 votes total Vote Now