I love the offensive line. It's often where you find the smartest men on the team, men who do the unsung work that make an offense go, the ones that you don't ever even really notice unless something is going wrong. Sadly, there was a lot of noticing the offensive line last year, as the unit was thrown into a tizzy by the surprise defection of Tayo Fabuluje last year and never really jelled as a result. Depending on your perspective this year, the bad news about the offensive line is the same as the good news- the majority of starters return, so let's have a look at each line position in a little depth.
Left Tackle: This is the most interesting position on the team, as despite a strong showing as a freshman, Aviante Collins regressed terribly last season- regularly getting blown past by speedy defensive ends and all too often seemingly having no idea of what his assignment was supposed to be. Despite that, Collins still finds himself on the top of the depth chart as a junior going into fall practices, and he has the height, frame and build to be a good left tackle if he gets the assignments straight and gets that first step working as he should. However, number two on the depth chart is the familiar and very intriguing name- Tayo Fabuluje. The prodigal tackle has returned after his defection to BYU and back, and Frog fans will be familiar with his steady (if not spectacular) performance in 2012 that earned him an honroable mention for Big 12 offensive newcomer of the year. Fabuluje is the only senior on the two deep for the offensive line, and has a lot of familiarity with the coaching staff, even if they do possibly have reason to question his commitment. If Fabuluje remains on the team until kickoff this year it will be very interesting to see how long of a leash Collins will have should he struggle again, because a more polished starter is waiting in the wings.
Left Guard: Junior Jamelle Naff is ticketed to resume the left guard role after seeing two starts and some other playing time at the position last year. Naff will be one of the beneficiaries of the new offensive system, as he's very effective if he can just get his hands on someone- and the new offense will be asking him to take an initial step back to read the defense and establish a powerful base- allowing him to get his head around and hopefully get his mits on his man before being asked to drive or pull. Behind him at present is highly coveted JUCO transfer Frank Kee, who it's safe to say didn't pick TCU because he expected to sit for his last two years of eligibility. Competition on the O-line is a very good thing, so expect whoever starts at LG this year to be a step up from last year (and depending on who you read, Kee may be starting at right guard).
Center: Joey Hunt, this is your time. Hunt started 11 games for the Frogs at center last year, and was one of the few bright spots on the line- though he may have been culpable in some of the issues with blocking assignments. Still Hunt was an academic all conference member, which is one of the best things you can write about a center- with the possible exceptions of "grinder" and "big mean streak". Hunt will be responsible for making sure the line adjusts and comes together, which is where we'll hopefully get to see that academic all-conference bit play out. If Hunt does well, expect the line to get a big boost. Backing up Hunt will be sophomore Patrick Morris or possibly our nominal starter at right guard will slide over to make room for Frank Kee at guard.
Right Guard: Having a Foltz at guard is a bit of a comfort for TCU fans, as Blaize Foltz was a First team All MWC and second team All Big 12 member in his two seasons starting for the Frogs, but now it's little brother Brady Foltz's time to shine. Another big body tipping the scales at 325, Foltz has quick feet and is a quick study, but it's worriesome that despite the woeful play of the line last year Foltz never cracked the starting lineup (though he did play in every game). Foltz will also be pressed by Kee, though his nominal backup is fellow junior Bobby Thompson, who played in two games last year.
Right Tackle: This is going to be almost as interesting as the left tackle position, even if the competition isn't as fierce, for the simple reason that coming out of spring practice the coaching staff had a buzz going about every announcer's worst nightmare, Halapoulivaati Vaitai (which I spelled correctly without having to look it up). Vaitai is a mammoth man who looked a bit confused his first two seasons, but as coaches say "the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores"- and now Vaitai is a junior who has shed some of the bad weight while still tipping the scale at over 300 pounds. If the reports coming out of camp are accurate and Vaitai has turned the corner, he may be the closest thing TCU has to a likely All-conference member on the line. However, the coaching staff were also quite high on backup Joseph Noteboom coming out of fall camp, so again, if Vaitai isn't getting it done there's a body with some buzz behind him waiting to step in.
You're seeing a lot of familiar names in this list, and so you're probably hanging your head a little bit and thinking that the offensive line isn't going to improve by much this year, and I won't lie- that's a possibility. However, one thing that you also should have noticed going through the list of starters is one word coming up over and over again. Junior. At every starting position on the offensive line this year, TCU will be starting someone with at least two full years of experience on the line in the TCU program, and in several cases more thanks to redshirting. Offensive line is really the slowest position to adjust to in the step up from high school to college, and TCU has a collection of guys who have not only had years in the program and in the weight room, but also have collected a lot of on field experience as well. To me this has all of the ingredients of a group ready to take a big step forward under hopefully competent coordination this season- and in 2015 they'll all be seniors. That is something to be excited about.
And if not, we get to fire Jarrett Anderson again!