We've reached a line of demarcation in our unit previews as we have moved from units that are expected to be improving from already poor states to units that are expected to lead the team to victory this fall.
Don't be alarmed if this sounds familiar, because it was the exact same position we found ourselves in a year ago. Hype surrounded an offensive line that was anchored by senior center Tom Farniok. Then just like the prior years injuries and unforeseen circumstances drastically altered the look of the line.
First, second string center Ben Loth tore his ACL in fall camp. Then Jacob Gannon quit the team after the NDSU game and forced redshirt freshman Jake Campos in to early action. Then Jacob Dunning lost the rest of his season to an injury sustained in the Iowa game. Farniok missed time with an injury and was backed up by Jamison Lalk, and by the end of the season only RG Daniel Burton had started all 12 games.
A lack of consistency has plagued the offensive line for years and despite all of Paul Rhoads' declarations about a rebuilt culture in Ames it's the health of the line that will ultimately make or break the quality of the offensive product this fall.
This is your 2015 preview of Iowa State's offensive line.
The Depth Chart
|56||Jaypee Philbert Jr.||RSo||6'4"||314|
Center Jamison Lalk has played in 34 career games while starting in 19 of them. He's unquestionably the most experienced lineman on the roster and is expected to replace the hole left by Farniok. Like the rest of the line, Lalk has battled through injuries his entire career and has an uphill battle facing him when it comes to staying healthy.
That's doubly important in 2015 as back up center Patrick Scoggins went down with a season ending knee injury in camp last week. Lalk is one of the best and most consistent performers on the offensive line play in and play out, but you don't get to see it if he's not on the field.
The X Factor
If you're looking to revive a dying run game it's pretty easy to pick a guy like Wendell Taiese and say he's the one to do it behind. Taiese played most of 2014 primarily on special teams due to his issues with pass blocking, but talk out of camp is that he's come along a lot in the off season and is expected to be in the mix of the eight or nine linemen that offensive line coach Brandon Blaney wants to use each game. Taiese's measureables are in that "holy shit they can't really make guys this big can they?" territory, which is awesome if you're wanting to win short yardage situations.
Imagine a situation where Taiese comes in to play a sixth offensive lineman and has Joel Lanning and Josh Thomas in the backfield. That isn't a Belldozer package. That's a Belldozer on the back of an 18 wheeler that's barreling down a hill package.
A Relevant Stat
No stats necessary when I already explained how terrible this team was in the middle of the offensive line last season.
Winning short yardage situations alone might be the best indicator of success for this line. But since this section is for pie in the sky asks then I'll add at least 4.5 yards per carry, not finishing last in the Big XII in sacks allowed despite a mobile quarterback, and more time for Sam B. Richardson to drop bombs.
A continuation of 2014... and 2013... and 2012... with injuries, inconsistencies, and the random "what the hell was that call" feeling when 3 rushers break through and break Richardson in half.
The Final Verdict
Just look at a quarterback like Ken Dorsey, a relatively weak armed, immobile quarterback who won most major offensive awards his junior and senior seasons while playing in two national championship games. While you can credit a lot of his success to his skill player supporting cast (the 2001 team started Najeh Davenport (FB), Clinton Portis (HB), Jeremy Shockey (TE), Kellen Winslow Jr. (TE), and Andre Johnson (WR)); it's his offensive line that turned him in to one of the best players in the country.
Four of the five offensive line starters went on to play in the NFL after they left Miami, and one (G Sherko Haji-Rasouli) had an eight year career in the CFL. You don't have to go far to see that the quality of the five men up front will affect the quality of the men behind them, and in Ames, the quality has been sub-par since 2011.
It's cliché to say everything starts up front, but clichés exist for a reason: at some point in time they were true. Our neighbors to the east get through their middling schedule with some modicum of success because they're a factory for NFL offensive linemen. If Iowa State, and Paul Rhoads, want to reset the trajectory of the program they'll do so through the hog mollies up front. Hardly any of these guys will play on Sundays, but staying healthy and churning out a consistent performance will elevate this offense to levels we haven't seen in years.