One of the best and most impressive sources of improvement for the Cyclone football team in 2009 was the rapid development of the offensive line. Bill Bleil has taken control of the group and they paved the way for a very impressive year for Alexander Robinson, while also giving Austen Arnaud plenty of time to throw the ball.
Despite the losses of Reggie Stephens (NFL Draft) and Scott Haughton (academics) the line still looks to carry promise headed into the fall. Anchored by Phil Steele's second team All-Big 12 pick Ben Lamaak, who will now move to center, this group looks to pave the way for Robinson en route to his goal of 1500 yards.
The line has been an interesting mix of flux and stability. Haughton is gone, but rumor is Hayworth Hicks may be back, and because of that, I'll include him in my offensive line projections.
Projected Starting Offensive Line
LT Kelechi Osemele (RSJr.)
LG Alex Alvarez (RSSr.)
C Ben Lamaak (RSSr.)
RG Hayworth Hicks (RSJr.)
RT Brayden Burris (So.)
Yes, Haughton is gone, but if Hicks is indeed back, expect him to contend for that right guard spot right away. Bliel and Rhoads have never been afraid to move guys around, which was what was happening with Haughton and why the hole is now at right guard instead of right tackle.
This is a very capable group of guys to go into 2010 with. K.O. is a future NFL draft pick, and likely ISU's highest projected draft pick when he decides to go that route. Alvarez doesn't have the standard size, but has found a niche at guard, and can also play center in a pinch. Lamaak literally can play anywhere, having started at guard and tackle, as well as playing tight end and quarterback in high school. His versatility has proven valuable on the line. Hicks is massive (6-3, 346) but will need to keep working hard to fight for a starting spot. Burris has always been a favorite of the coaching staff, and is expected to hold onto that right tackle spot, and may be the blind side protector after Osemele is done at ISU. We're not exactly breaking in freshmen here, so good things should be expected.
C Sean Smith
C/G Ethan Tuftee
C Mike Bangston
G/T Jon Caspers (JUCO)
G Drew Davis
G Taimon Moran-Hoyne
T/G Kyle Lichtenberg
This gets complicated, as many times the coaching staff will switch the more experienced guys around if someone can't start (such as Alvarez at center when Reggie Stephens was in the hospital last year). I expect the competition to be tight for the backup center spot, although if anyone is needed to fill in for a long amount of time, I could see a guy like Lichtenberg or Caspers moved from their spots to fill in for another need. The depth is much better at tackle than anywhere else, though I've italicized the guys that I think are most likely to fill in and play this year. Caspers has a leg up on all the offensive line recruits, having been here for spring ball, though he has expressed a desire to redshirt.
T Shaban Dika
C Tom Farniok
T/G Jacob Gannon
T/G Bob Graham
T/G Ben Loth
Projecting offensive line spots for incoming freshmen is difficult to say the least. Farniok projects as a center (and may actually play as a freshman to prepare him for 2011), but after that, the coaching staff will likely see who fits best after that. The other four recruits were brought in as tackles, but a couple of them may not have the size to stick on the edge and may be moved to guard or even center.
It will be extremely interesting to see the offensive line depth chart at the end of fall camp. The staff brought in six recruits to build and contend, and it's important to see if any can contribute, if even in a backup capacity, in an immediate fashion.