There's one big thing I'm looking for with the 2014 edition of Iowa State's offensive line: an ability to stay on their feet.
Step back and think back to 2013 for a moment. Not only did we witness lineman lying on the ground writhing with yet another knee injury, but how many running plays were blown up when a pulling guard tripped and fell, or an opposing defensive lineman quickly dispatched his counterpart? Or worse yet, how many sacks did Sam Richardson take where the line was flailing at a pass rusher only to fall flat on their face?
There are a lot of reasons for that type of failure last year, but the simple fact is a lot of those linemen shouldn't have been playing. The spectacular injury rate that former offensive line coach Chris Klenakis created for his line pressed a lot of young bodies into service. Those young bodies weren't big or quick enough to play in the Big XII, and they certainly weren't well versed in Klenakis' more complicated pin and pull blocking techniques.
Fast forward to the fall and the narrative has flipped 180 degrees. The line is healthy, their leader is healthy, and their new coach, Brandon Blaney, was handpicked by the offensive coordinator and has been receiving rave reviews.
In the years that Iowa State performed their best on offense they did so behind a big, mean line and this is setting up to be one of those years.
|DEPTH CHART: OFFENSIVE LINE|
|1st String||LT||Brock Dagel||RJr||6'8"||305|
|2nd String||LT||Jake Campos||RFr||6'8"||291|
|The Rest: Shawn Curtis (LT, RFr), Nick Severs (C, RFr), Jacob Homa (RG, RFr)|
Center. Beefcastle. Tom Farniok. He goes by many a name, but senior center Tom Farniok is the unquestioned leader of the offensive line. A starter since the 2011 season, Farniok has not only grew in size but in his technique. He became so polished in fact that there was a noticeable difference in the unit's ability to block when he was missing early in the 2013 season.
When the leader of your position group rips the door off his bedroom after finding out his coach has left, you begin to realize how big of a deal it was that this entire group of young men got another chance to prove themselves. If Farniok is celebrating a coach moving on you have to wonder where his head was last year, and what good will come when he's healthy, likes his coach, and has one final chance to prove himself. If the line and the offense has a big year in 2014 you can look at Farniok as to where it started.
The X Factor
Paul Rhoads expects Jacob Gannon to have a big year. My blogger eye expects Jacob Gannon to have a big year. Gannon was good enough to fill in at guard late in the 2011 season as a redshirt freshman, and threw some of the key blocks for Jeff Woody's final drive against Oklahoma State. Gannon is due for a big senior year, and he's finally tipping the scales at over 300 pounds. Iowa State's two book ends at tackle are 6'7" or taller and are over 300 pounds. You know who else has measurements like that? Pretty much every legitimate Big XII team.
If Gannon can have a big year and hold down the right side then it takes a lot of pressure off the the guys in the middle who can then focus on some of the aggressive space eaters that other teams will put in the middle of their defense.
The New Guys
We won't touch on true freshmen here. If Jake Campos couldn't play last year as a true freshman then no one in this unit will.
Speaking of Campos he's going to see some playing time somewhere on the line at some point. He's too tall to play guard effectively, and he'll most likely get some snaps at both left and right tackle to spell Brock Dagel and Gannon. We just don't know how much time he'll see, but a deep offensive line usually rolls with eight or nine players on a rotation and he'll figure prominently in it.
Ryan Glenn comes off his redshirt campaign already weighing 300 plus pounds, and is joined by JUCO transfer Wendell Taiese who's down in weight to 332 pounds. Between those two and Jamison Lalk, who slid to back up center after Ben Loth's injury, there will be some good rotations in the middle as well.
By my count the three new guys featured above will help make up a core of nine offensive linemen that can rotate in and out of games, and of those six have extensive playing time in the Big XII, one is a JUCO, one is a former four star, and one is named Ryan Glenn. Not a bad mix to have at this point in the year.
The Key to Success
Health again is the overriding key to success, but largely because of the potential this unit has. Some dings, scrapes, and missed time by a few starters probably isn't going to kill the unit like it did last year, but if the starters can remain healthy throughout the season this offense has a very high ceiling by Iowa State's standards.
This starting five has two linemen who have been playing in important spots since 2011, two guards who came on strong and played their best ball in the last half of 2013, and a left tackle who has the prototypical size to play at the next level. If this group gels and stays healthy they'll be the best unit on the field because they'll allow every other unit the chance to play their best.
I've stayed rather even keel on predictions in these pieces, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this starting five may be the best line Iowa State has had in at least a decade. If they stay healthy a postseason berth will turn from an "if" to a "when" and "where".