Last year the offensive line was anchored on the right side by Tanner Hawkinson and the left side by senior Jeff Spikes. With Spikes now gone, Hawkinson appears to be the lone tackle that has truly solidified his role at left tackle and as a team captain. Beyond that, a host of players are going to be competing to hold down the right side of the line.
Tanner Hawkinson - Team captain, starting left tackle and one of the more important players on the team this year as he'll be protecting the blind side of Dayne Crist. Remember back to the Mark Mangino days when Hawkinson was a redshirt freshman and Mangino said he could be the best left tackle at Kansas. That was one year removed from Anthony Collins so those words certainly carried with them some pretty strong expectations. Hawkinson hasn't necessarily lived up those expectations but he has been a solid four year player for Kansas. This is the year that he has to take it to another level if he wants to make a play at the NFL and be remembered as one of the really good ones at Kansas. With the left side of the line comprised of upperclassman it should provide an opportunity of everyone to shine.
- Riley Spencer - It would be great news for Kansas if Spencer could step into the right tackle role as a redshirt junior and take control of the position. From the beginning he's been viewed as a player with an NFL body but he's struggled with injury and faced some pretty stiff competition. Once again he finds himself sidelined for a stretch this fall and that has more than opened the door for others to move in. At 6'6" 305 Kansas could benefit a great deal in the next two seasons if Spencer can fulfill the potential that has surrounded his name from the beginning of his career.
- Gavin Howard - For the moment Howard appears to be next in line at the right tackle spot after shuffling over from guard. Howard checks in at 6'4" 300 and is better suited at guard but he spent much of his time during the Turner Gill era playing in a backup role at tackle. He's quietly been a player that has provided depth and while we haven't had to see him play much, he has been a consistent player in terms of positioning himself for playing time should the situation arise. When he's been in games he has been serviceable and perhaps this year will provide him the opportunity to take the next step. Ideally that step takes place at right guard, but his versatility is a positive.
Aslam Sterling - Sterling turned heads with his size upon arrival but he's had to play catchup with everyone else so far this preseason. Howard's move to right tackle with the Spencer setback shows that Sterling probably isn't quite ready but the staff does continue to suggest that his work ethic is such that he can and will compete this year for playing time.
- Pat Lewandowski - Lewandowski could end up having a similar story to Hawkinson when it's all said and done. He's bounced from defensive end to defensive tackle and since moving to offensive tackle he has pushed his weight to 285 and this is the all important 'good weight' that Holsopple talks about. Lewandowski's athleticism could be a huge asset at left tackle in the future and while we obviously hope he doesn't have to see the field this year, it's a potentially promising story to follow over these next few seasons.
- Bryan Peters - Peters was initially viewed as one of the most football ready offensive lineman in Turner Gill's original class. Since that time it's been pretty quiet. He's been in the early conversation at right tackle but it hasn't been a very loud conversation as far as his contribution. He's still just a redshirt sophomore and ideally Kansas will want and need an offensive line built around 4 and 5 year players so there is still plenty of time.
- Sean Connolly - Connolly is just a freshman and a project currently in progress but he did recieve one mention early on from Tim Grunhard for his footwork and athleticism. A redshirt this year. Maybe two seasons behind Lewandowski and then stepping into a left tackle role as a redshirt junior?
Honestly there is a lot of promise at this position and a lot to be excited about. Hawkinson looks physically prepared to make the leap and he is obviously doing the right things within the program to earn captain status. The big question is the right side, but Spencer will be a great option if he can remain healthy. If he can't Kansas would ideally like to see Sterling step up but if he can't Howard is getting work at right tackle and can slide over from the guard spot. This is going to be an experienced position if the lead candidates can solidify their roles and stay healthy.