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Position Preview: Offensive Tackles

Last season, the Kansas Jayhawks possessed one of the best offensive tackle duos in all of college football. Both were adjusting to new positions, but there was never really an adjustment period. Cesar Rodriguez, on the right side, had spent much of his sophomore and junior seasons in the starting lineup, and used that experience to his benefit. And then you had Anthony Collins starting opposite him, a high school basketball player who only came to football as a way to make some serious dough. So much so that "Momma's Gotta Eat" became his unofficial nickname. Still, even with his humorous take on why he is playing football, he was named a first team All-American and a finalist for the Outland Trophy, which he lost to Glenn Dorsey.

And so, while there are some uncertain and unproven Jayhawks that will be depended upon throughout the entire team, including TE, OWR, DT, DE and CB, no position is as questionable entering into the season as the offensive tackles. Replacing two of the best offensive linemen in school history are two redshirt freshmen, two players who have yet to even don a uniform with a chance of playing that night at the collegiate level. If that doesn't make you uneasy, not much will. Still, the freak out factor has been relatively low throughout the Jayhawk fanbase, right or wrong. While the MSM is harping on the losses of 1,300 yard rusher Brandon Mcanderson and 1,000 yard receiver Marcus Henry departing, not to mention first round pick Aqib Talib, few are acknowledging the largest hole on this team. The tackles. Which is especially odd considering that the two positions the MSM seems to be most worried about on offense, runningback and outside wide receiver, are littered with at least somewhat experienced players, while the offensive tackle position is going to be left up to two complete unknowns.

And yet, despite the fact that they are completely and utterly unknown quantities, I'm not nervous. Well, that isn't true. I still haven't quite figured out a way how we will survive George Selvie and South Florida in week 3, but besides that I'm good. Really. Because Spikes reminds me a helluva lot like Collins. Not to say that he is the next AC, because not too many offensive linemen will sprint down the field just to pick up the touchdown-scorer while slapping him across the helmet in the process, but he has the same intangible feel to me. But more on that later. For now, here is the three year depth chart at both LT and RT:

2008 2009 2010
LT1 Jeff Spikes (rsFR) Jeff Spikes (rsSO) Jeff Spikes (rsJR)
LT2 Ian Wolfe (rsSO) Ian Wolfe (rsJR) Ian Wolfe (rsSR)
LT3 Ben Lueken (FR)* Ben Lueken (rsFR) Ben Lueken (rsSO)
RT1 Jeremiah Hatch (rsFR) Jeremiah Hatch (rsSO) Jeremiah Hatch (rsJR)
RT2 Matt Darton (rsSR) Nathan D'Cunha (rsJR) Nathan D'Cunha (rsSR)
RT3 Nathan D'Cunha (JR) EMPTY EMPTY

--- Italics denote projected redshirt year

--- Bold denotes projected EMPTY space on depth chart

* I realize that this report indicates that Lueken will not be redshirted this season. However, I still think that he will be initially redshirted, only to potentially come available were he to be needed, which he hopefully won't be. Still, great news that he has looked that good thus far in camp.

Because of the whole freshmen factor, we seem to be set at this position for the forseeable future. Wolfe and D'Cunha figure to be really good backups, and there is always the possibility of, if Wolfe/D'Cunha/Lueken performs well enough, of Hatch moving back inside to his natural position of G/C and W/D'C/L taking over at RT. In all honesty, this is probably as deep of an offensive line unit Kansas has ever had, and that includes the losses of Collins and Rodriguez. This group is that good, IMO.

Player-by-player previews after jump...

Jeff Spikes :: #74 :: rsFR :: LT1

The more I read about this kid and hear about his practice action, one name keeps popping into my head more and more. Anthony Collins. It is pretty creepy, when you think about it. And of course, given Collins' tenure here at Kansas, it is definitely a 'good' creepy. Here are some of the similarities:

  • Size. Anthony Collins was listed at 6'5" 310 his junior season. Jeff Spikes is currently listed at 6'6" 314.
  • Basketball. Both played in high school, and both were successful. Spikes averaged a double-double his senior year (12 pts, 12 rebs). Obviously, this speaks wonders about their athleticism for being so large.
  • Recruiting Obscurity. Both were 2-STAR prospects according to Rivals, and both received a 5.2 on the RR scale. A 5.2, fit inside the parameters of 5.4-5.0, is described as a "mid-major prospect...may be a role player". Both received little interest from schools (Spikes' profile lists Ohio State and Pittsburgh as interested parties, but there was likely no scholarship offer made). In fact, Spikes was the last commitment of the Jayhawks' 2007 class, who didn't receive an oral commitment until February 4th of 2007, just days before Signing Day.

Really, it's freaky.

However, despite being AC's replacement and despite their similarities that seem to never end, it is never a good thing to expect him to be as good as AC was. For one, Collins didn't start as a redshirt freshman; Spikes is. For another, Collins wasn't faced with the pressure of starting on the left side until his junior season; again, this is Spike's freshman year. And for last, well, Collins was more of the expection than the rule. It is silly to expect such incredible, All-American-deserving results from Spikes at any point in his career, much less his freshman season.

Yet, the similarities are too much to overlook. Combine that with the practice reports, and we just might have struck gold twice, hit on another overlooked offensive line prospect. Honestly, I can't wait to see #74 on the field, even if it is lining up against George Selvie. I have a good feeling about him.

Ian Wolfe :: #63 :: rsSO :: LT2

Entering the offseason, Wolfe was a contender for the LT job and the heavy, odds-on favorite for the RT job, were he not to win the job on the left side. He had an extra year of experience compared to his main competition for the LT job, Spikes, and more future potential than the primary challenger at RT, Matt Darton. And yet, without blowing up and becoming a substantially worse football player, he lost out on both. LT isn't too big of a surprise; Spikes was, if there was one, the favorite and he has the most potential of the challengers. But as far as the RT job, even entering fall practice it was thought that Wolfe had the job all-but-locked-up. Enter Jeremiah Hatch, a guard-turned-tackle, and poof, there goes the RT job.

And so, Ian Wolfe is a victim of circumstance. Despite little done wrong by him, he has been firmly entrenched as a backup, and even though he is a relative young buck as a redshirt sophomore, he is stuck behind two redshirt freshmen. Barring an injury or a move, by him or Hatch, he looks to be relegated to the bench for the rest of his college career.

But here is where it gets exciting. Wolfe is a bench lineman. A reserve. This despite the fact that he was decently recruited (K-State, Oregon and Wazzu all were heavily interested), has looked good in practice and is the most veteran lineman of the bunch. Given all of that, he would clearly have been the best offensive lineman in the history of the Terry Allen era. Honestly. That is how much the program has changed. The best lineman in a five-year era for one coach is merely a reserve for the next, and likely a career one.

Ben Lueken :: #67 :: FR :: LT3

In the Class of 2008, the Jayhawks picked up commitments from three offensive linemen. Honestly, I am really excited about all three; all three will, at some point in their careers, be starters in my opinion. But of the three (John Williams, Trevor Marrongelli and Lueken), I was least excited about Lueken, to be honest. Entirely on gut feeling, of course, and some grainy high school footage, but I fell in love with Marrongelli. And Williams figured to be a road-grader-of-a-LG by 2009. And while Lueken had the most impressive offer sheet (Michigan, Nebraska and Missouri were all heavily interested), he still didn't strike a chord inside of me. Not really sure why.

Now here I sit, looking like an idiot. Not to say I was wrong, not a single one has even wore a college game uniform yet, but Lueken has clearly won Round 1, as he is being heavily considered to forgo his redshirt season and play this year. Marrongelli and Williams are assuredly receiving redshirts this season, and rightly so, as they could both (theoritically) be in competition for starting slots next season. Where Lueken would play is still up for debate, although it would almost certainly be at LG where we are weakest (no offense to Adrian Mayes), but all that really matters is Mangino thinks enough of him to consider playing him this season. As a true freshman. To be honest, I can't recall the last true freshman who saw significant action here at Kansas.

I still advocate slapping a redshirt on him as well, giving us an incredibly bright future at offensive tackle (and on the offensive line as a whole), but if Mangino thinks he is good enough go ahead. In any case, it seems we have a real stud on our hands; either at T or G.

Jeremiah Hatch :: #77 :: rsFR :: RT1

Jeremiah Hatch, entering the offseason, was thought to be the primary reserve at LG and C. He was not, however, even in consideration for a starting tackle job. That all changed, however, in fall practice, where he emerged as a contender for the RT job. And, after beating out Ian Wolfe and Matt Darton, he officially was named starter; one of the biggest shocks of fall practice, to say the least.

Hatch has guard size (he is only 6'3"), but as long as he is agile enough to take on the speed rushers there shouldn't be a problem. Entering school, few even thought there was a possibility of him playing tackle. The plan seemed to be for him to challenge Adrian Mayes this fall for the starting LG job and were he to lose out, he would replace Mayes at some point during the season. He would then become the longterm starter at either LG or, once Cantrell graduates, C, depending on where we are thinner. But plans rarely work out exactly as they are intended to, and this case is a perfect example.

Frankly, I am much more nervous about Hatch as a RT than I am about Spikes as a LT. It doesn't necessarily make sense, as Hatch was a more established prep football player, was more highly hyped this offseason and looked good enough in practice for some to be calling for him foregoing a redshirt last season and starting. However, his size worries me (an irrational worry, most likely) and I would hate for us to become a one-direction running team. Not that I think it will happen, not by any means, but I think the odds are higher that we will have to replace Hatch this season than Spikes.

Matt Darton :: #70 :: rsSR :: RT2

A career reserve, Darton spent nearly four years seated squarely on the bench before receiving the emergency start against Iowa State last season while Anthony Collins was out with an injury. He performed admirably, to be sure, but was not exceptional by any measure, and was replaced the next week without regret by the still-only-75%-at-best Anthony Collins.

This offseason, however, was his chance to finally claim a starting spot after four years of waiting. He was thought to be the main competition to Ian Wolfe at the RT spot and was even thought of as a dark horse for the LT job, but he was able to solidify neither. However, if the moved Hatch cannot successfully make the transition to tackle, Darton figures to be the first in line to replace him. He provides excellent stability and depth; fifth-year seniors are nearly always dependable, and that assurance of a quality, Damon Huard-like veteran (and I mean that in the best way possible) likely made it easier for the staff to select a lineman who had never before played RT.

Nathan D'Cunha :: #75 :: JR :: RT3

Nathan D'Cunha is incredibly raw. This tends to happen when you grow up in Australia, not exactly the American football hotbed of the world. Now, rugby, maybe. But not football. And so, his incredible hype coming into the University of Kansas is puzzling. He figured to be a player not to be counted upon for awhile, given the whole raw thing and all. Yet, given his decommitment from Baylor just so he could pledge his final two years of eligibility to Kansas and his 4-STAR rating from Rivals, some would have told you in February that he was the biggest signee of the Class. Not particularly intelligent people, most likely, but people nonetheless.

This isn't to say that D'Cunha won't turn out to be a fine football player. However, the tackle situation is worlds better off than it was when D'Cunha committed to the University of Kansas, and D'Cunha still only has two years of eligibility remaining. His chances of seeing the field are fairly low, although he has the talent (and the raw ability) to shoot up the depth chart. A perfect guy, in my opinion, to stick behind a dependable, little-upside guy in Darton; an all-upside, potential-future-starter that may very well never playing a down of college football. Still, given the relative depth that we have at the position, a good risk to take.


Next Up: Guards/Centers

On Deck: Defensive Ends