At the end of the 2014 season, TCU's defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas announced his retirement. While the #FrogFam faithful will never forget him, he was one of the greatest unsung heroes in college football over the last decade. It's not easy to be great at what you do and always be overshadowed by the bigger names that the media and fans crave to hear about. It takes a special kind of selfless player to excel in this kind of role. One who isn't afraid to show up everyday and grind it out, humbly doing so in the knowledge that it won't be his name being called when the fireworks go off. This preview is for the unsung heroes of our team, the offensive line.
Left Tackle: This is the most important of the two tackles for an offense that relies primarily on the passing game, because it is the one that protects the quarterback's blind side. Conventional wisdom states that you want to put your best pass blocker on this side of the line. Senior Halapoulivaata Vaitai, or Big-V, is listed as the starter coming into the season. Big-V is a three-year letterman at tackle for the Frogs, starting all 13 games in 2014 and seven games in 2013. While he struggled a little bit in his earlier seasons he clearly brought his game up to the next level, earning second-team all Big XII honors in 2014. He will be looked upon to replace Tayo Fabuluje who was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL draft. Backing up Big-V is Aviante Collins, also a senior, who has started in 23 games over his TCU career. He had mixed levels of success over his first two years before being beat out by Tayo and Big-V in the tackle position last year.
Left Guard: To the left of center Frog fans will welcome back Jamelle Naff. Jamelle, also a senior, redshirted the 2011 season and saw action in both 2012 and 2013. After starting just two games in 2013, he started all 13 games last year. At 6'4" and weighing in at 325 pounds, Naff is well suited to be a guard in a pass-first offense. He is a big, heavy guy who has the physical tools to sit back, form a wall, and keep the pressure off of Boykin. After a breakout year in 2014, one would expect that an extra year in the program will yield similarly pleasing results in the upcoming season. Backing up Naff is another senior, Bobby Thompson who has seen action in 15 games over his TCU career and helps to provide solid depth at the guard position.
Center: This is another position in which the Horned Frogs have the luxury of lining up an experienced, proven senior. Not only did Joey Hunt start every game at center the last two seasons, he has the most important thing that you want in a center, intelligence. This is evidenced by the fact that he was named second-team Academic All-Big 12 in 2013 and 2014. The center is essentially the quarterback of the offensive line, so having an engineering major in that spot makes you feel good about his ability to identify what the defense is doing and relay that to the rest of the line. To compliment his brains this kid has also got the brawn. In addition to earning second team All Big XII honors last year, he was named to the Remington Award watch list, awarded to the nation's best center, last year and again this year.The backup behind Hunt, Austin Schlottman, saw action in all 13 games last year as a true freshman.
Right Guard: To the right of center is another established, senior starter in Brady Foltz. Brady is the younger brother of former TCU O-lineman Blaize Foltz, who was a two year starter for the Frogs back in 2011 & 2012. This was a position where we experienced some inconsistency over our first two years in the Big XII. Last year at this time everyone expected the highly touted transfer Frank Kee to step in and start, but Foltz ended up winning the job to carry on the family legacy - with Kee being relegated to a backup role. Foltz started all 13 games for the Horned Frogs in 2014 and with frame that puts him at 6'4" weighing in at 320 pounds, he and Naff make two formidable bodies on either side of center. Also listed as a backup behind Foltz is sophomore Patrick Morris, who played in five games in 2013 and made one start before redshirting last year. Kee and Morris, along with Thompson in the other guard position, make this the deepest and most proven position on the line.
Right Tackle: This position was occupied by Big-V for the 2013 and 2014 seasons before moving to left tackle to replace Tayo Fabuluje in the spring. At the top of the depth chart coming into this season is sophomore Joseph Noteboom, a highly touted recruit in the 2013 class that many expected to start last year at this position. He might well have done so if not for the return of Fabuluje, which allowed coached to keep Big-V on this side of the line and allow another year for Noteboom to develop. This year is now set to be Noteboom's coming out party; and he should be ready after packing on some extra pounds and seeing action in all 13 games in 2014. The backup to Noteboom is currently listed as Matt Pryor. Pryor is a big sophomore at 6'7" and weighing in at 350 pounds. A guy with that kind of height has a wingspan and is difficult to get around on the outside, so he should provide solid depth as well having played in eight games in 2014 after redshirting 2013.
After struggling mightily during their first two years in the Big XII, TCU finally found some consistency among the offensive line in 2014. A lot of this had to do with the surprise departure of Fabuluje two years ago during fall camp. We love Tayo, and we certainly understand and respect his reasons for leaving, but there's no denying that hurt. The other big factor is that there is a reason we have so many seniors on the depth chart this season, because our first two years in the Big XII we played a lot of young guys. So, part of the improvement can also be attributed to the right players just having time to mature and develop. Hopefully that will pay dividends again this year. TCU is coming into the season with one of the best, most experienced offensive lines in the Big XII and we have no reason not to feel confident that they will play up to that standard.