A&M's offensive line aims to dispel the doubters

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Most observers believe that Texas A&M's offensive line is the team's biggest question mark heading into the season.

Senior tackle Travis Schneider has heard some of the concern from A&M fans. But he said that the retooled offensive line will be ready to surprise some doubters when the Aggies open the season Aug. 30 against Arkansas State.

"I don't read a lot of preseason stuff, but I come from a big college town so you're going to hear it regardless," Schneider. "I'm not surprised. We had four great guys leave us. But the guys we have filling that role will show people they can play. I'm not worried about offensive line at all."

The Aggies return jet-quick running back Michael Goodson, quarterback Stephen McGee, bruising fullback Jorvorskie Lane and heralded redshirt freshman Bradley Stephens to highlight one of the nation's deepest backfields. The lack of returning talent along A&M's offensive front are prompting the questions of whether the Aggies will be able to match last season's average of 211.6 rushing yards -- good for 13th nationally -- if they don't have any holes to run through.

A&M's new line will be anchored by junior Kevin Matthews, son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews. He is expected to be flanked by junior guards Lee Grimes and Vincent Williams. Schneider and junior Michael Shumard are the leaders at tackle heading into fall camp.

Gone from last season are all-Big 12 center Cody Wallace and guard Kirk Elder and tackle Corey Clark -- who both earned honorable mention for conference honors. Wallace and Clark both were selected in the 2008 NFL Draft.

"We had four guys leave from last year who played a lot of games for us and there's no doubt they will be hard to replace," Schneider said. "But we have some young guys with the right attitude about them. We do a lot of stuff together as a unit and these guys will show people they can play."

New A&M coach Mike Sherman will change A&M's basic offensive philosophy from an option-based attack favored by former coach Dennis Franchione to a pro-style attack that will feature more play-action passing and running between the tackles.

The change would be daunting -- even if Sherman's new group had much returning experience.

"Regardless of what you do, whether you're an option team or a West Coast offense or a spread offense, it's a challenge," Sherman said.

The transformation of the unit to a more physical, aggressive offensive attack has suited the new A&M line.

"We're more like a pro-style offense now running the ball between the tackles and it's good," Schneider said. "It's kind of a fresh breath for us to start playing with it. We're rolling. This offense lets us play more aggressively. We're a better football team."

The lack of star power or returning experience isn't necessarily a liability, Sherman said.

Earlier in his career, Sherman has developed a cohesive offensive line that wasn't necessarily composed of the best athletes or most heralded players. He has 13 years of previous experience as a college offensive line coach, including seven seasons at A&M from 1989-93 and 1995-96 under R.C. Slocum.

"I think an offensive line is measured collectively -- how well they work well collectively," Sherman said. "I've had lines with the star player that didn't mesh very well. So our goal is to get these guys to play well together. We have to accelerate the learning curve as soon as we can get our hands on them in a couple of weeks."

Schneider now serves as his group's leader and says he revels in his new role. The offensive line is also thriving because of Sherman's arrival.

"Change is good," Schneider said. "I'm looking forward to it and the rest of the team has too. We're all in this together and I think we'll do good."