Coming into this season, there seems to be two primary problems that preseason magazines are focusing on: interior line play and linebackers. This makes sense, of course, as we lost all 6 starters in those two positions. However, there are more than just two potential holes on this team. This week, we'll be documenting all of these "mini-issues", if you will, spending today on the issue of Left Tackle. This week is shorter than the past ones, but to make up for it tomorrow's (the mini-series finale) should be the longest yet.
Why It's a (Potential) Problem
This one's a little different. While the first two installments of this mini-series (part 4, the series conclusion, is tomorrow, where we'll take a look at the defensive line) have tended to focus more on positions where the players are up on the air, this one has a clear-cut favorite. It isn't a certainty, mind you, but it appears to be Tanner Hawkinson's job to lose. If he plays terribly in August, he won't start the season there. But, he certainly has a lead.
It's also a little different because I think most people consider this to be a concern. Maybe even a bigger one than the interior of the line, considering, as Denver said, there is oodles of talent there. Including last year's LT, Jeremiah Hatch. This time around, we are asking a player who was both a tight end and defensive end last year to bulk up, gain 30-some-odd pounds, and stop the best rushers the league has to offer. Uh-oh.
So, even if it is acknowledged, I don't think it is as acknowledged as much as it should be. The spread offense needs a bounty of eligible receivers to truly be successful, and keeping in a tight end or a running back to help out your offensive line takes one target away from Todd Reesing. Even chipping them off the line takes them off of their route, which costs valuable seconds to get open.
To put it mildly: yeah, I'm worried. Don't get me wrong - I absolutely love Tanner Hawkinson. He might have been my favorite incoming recruit last year, and I was sure he was the 'next big thing' in the passing game at tight end. His career since stepping foot on campus has gone nothing like I expected. I thought it'd be him, not Tim Biere, seeing frequent action as a freshman. If not, he'd at least be the longterm solution.
Not so much. Now, he's playing a more important position, quicker than he probably would have at tight end. And it's a position he's never played before, as opposed to his high school experience at both tight end and defensive end.
I don't have to go over why having a shaky left tackle isn't good for a football team. If you've been watching football long at all, you know that. So, Tanner, we're depending on you. But if you blow it, all hope is not lost.
The Potential Solutions
As the opening illustrates, it's all about Hawkinson, baby. At least, that's the vibe I be gettin'. If he slips up, Ian Wolfe and Jose Rodriguez are fighting for the backup spot, but they appear to be quite similar players, with similar upsides and stuff, so we'll talk about them at the same time, pretending as if they are one person. Beyond that, there isn't a whole lot left. It's either untested and raw (Riley Spencer and Gavin Howard), or been-there-done-that (Jeff Spikes), or worse. So, no real need to hash those names out. If we're at that point, we're almost assuredly in trouble.
Names start after the jump.
Tanner Hawkinson (rsFresh.)
Yes, we're going back here. Already. He's already up to 260, which while painfully tiny for a left tackle, is a substantial improvement on the 230 he was carrying in high school. That's 30 pounds, folks. That's a lot. And, I'm pretty sure the official roster hasn't been updated since the Spring Game. That was back in April, people. Which was, like, 3 months ago. Think of all the potential weight gains in 3 months! Seriously, though, last I heard he was up to 275. Which, while on the light side, is big enough to get by, particularly in this speed-heavy college football world we're living in these days.
I've actually never seen this person in real life, so this is where I pretend to know what I'm talking about when I truly have no clue. I have confidence in Tanner. I'm sure he's capable of doing a good job. Maybe even a great job. And from what I've read, if he takes to the position blah blah blah, he may even have an NFL future ahead of him. But, that's entirely too far away. Right now, I just hope he can take on the best UTEP has to offer. Honest.
Ian Wolfe/Jose Rodrigues (rsJr./rsSr.)
Am I the only person who always assumed Wolfe to be black? But that's neither here nor there.
What does matter, though, is that Wolfe and Rodrguez are probably capable fill-ins. Replacement level type of guys, if you will; good enough to come in and not entirely screw up the game, but whoever played would most certainly need help over there. They would be fine as a backup, for depth purposes and such, but hopefully Hawkinson takes to the position well.
While Tanner has the potential, from what I've read, to be a star there, I'm not seeing the same stuff with Wolfe. Like I said, he could do a passable job, but not one that you really want to settle for.
So, the Solution Is...
The same solution you expected. If you want to be optimistic about this, like at all, go for Hawkinson. All the way. Tanner has the potenail to be really, super awesome. But at the same time, given his immense lack of experience, he may be lost out there, at which point the task would fall to Wolfe or Rodriguez. And Wolfe or Rodriguez would probably do all right, but I'd rather not find just exactly how 'all right' it would be.
And yeah, I'm still freaked out. It's tough to quantify too much stuff, which is why this is almost entirely speculation and me repeating myself and it's still miniscule, but hey. It's pretty simple, really, and all boils down to one thing, with two possible outcomes (with varying degrees, of course):
1) Hawkinson lives up to at least some of his potential, learns more every practice, puts on the necessary weight (probably something around 285 would be chunky enough) and plays well enough to free up Biere and the running backs to go out for patterns without getting Todd killed. (Run-on sentence FTW.)
2) Hawkinson struggles picking up the new position, and can't quite nail down the starting gig. Ian Wolfe/Jose Rodriguez plalys OK, not bad not good, in his place. Help is needed all year long.
Let's just hope #1 happens. But, #2 is a real possibility, and if it happens it changes the entire course of our season. I don't think it's getting enough airplay.