A&M freshman bookends learned quickly

IRVING, Texas -- Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews were supposed to be good, of course. That's what their recruiting rankings told us. They were the nation's No. 6 and No. 7 offensive tackle prospects in the 2010 class, which is helpful for fans and coaches to get an idea of what they're getting.

For Joeckel and Matthews? Those rankings didn't do much more than force both to tow additional pressure and expectations behind them when they arrived in College Station.

That pressure hasn't kept them from exceeding expectations.

"It’s crazy to see because it’s so rare that this happens," said senior center Matt Allen. "To come straight out of high school and be so physically and mentally prepared for that is very rare to see."

Joeckel arrived from Arlington, Texas, in the spring and awed coach Mike Sherman enough to be named the team's starting left tackle by the end of the spring game for a team needing to replace three starters on the offensive line.

Matthews followed in the fall from Missouri City, Texas, and took over as the team's starting right tackle midway through the season because of an injury.

"Two young guys starting off a season, you know it’s been tough just adjusting to the speed of the game and the size of guys they’re going against," said quarterback Ryan Tannehill, whose move from receiver to quarterback has been a big reason for the Aggies' six-game winning streak to close the season.

"It’s an adjustment, and we knew that going into the season, but they adjusted well. They’re very athletic guys who can move well, are strong and are smart football players."

Allen remembers well the first time he saw both step on the field.

"They were physically ready but it was all about maturity and getting used to the college speed of the game," he said. "Once they settled down and got comfortable with the speed, then they really matured and you know, started figuring out how to work."

Early in the season, that young offensive line was a liability, and the hyped Aggies sat at a disappointing 3-3. Late in the season, it became a strength, as Tannehill took over and running back Cyrus Gray racked up six games with at least 100 yards rushing.

"They’ve really blossomed into the players they are now," Allen said. "It’s night and day difference."

Both prided themselves on technique not often seen on players with as little experience. After a season under offensive line coach Jim Turner, they've added a knowledge of the system and some more size and strength.

"They really matured throughout the season," Allen said. "I tried to help them as much as a I possibly can. Being the oldest guy there, they come with a lot of questions and they rely on the older guys a ton. I couldn’t be more proud of the way they performed during the season."

What was their biggest liability earlier in the season, though, is now one of their most attractive features.

"They’ve got three more years of playing," Allen said, "and they’re already playing as well as probably any tackle in the Big 12. It’s going to be great for the program."