STILLWATER, Okla. -- A year ago, Oklahoma State was full of question marks. None, perhaps, were bigger than what to expect out of the 1,500 pounds or so trying to pave the way for the Cowboys' new offense.
"We only had one guy [Lane Taylor] that was a returning starter and he’d only played 4 or 5 games, so we didn’t know where we were at," said coach Mike Gundy.
Added quarterback Brandon Weeden: "[Offensive line] coach [Joe] Wickline, as good as he is, I expected the best, but that was kind of the unknown. Myself, I was kind of like, 'will they be able to get it done?'"
Wickline rotated a few players in and out of the starting group early in spring. Finally, in hopes of chemistry creating a "whole greater than the sum of its parts" type of situation, he decided to stick with five players.
Taylor, a sophomore and the lone returning starter, was slotted at right guard. Levy Adcock and Nick Martinez slid into the role of right and left tackle, respectively. Jonathan Rush took over at left guard. Grant Garner assumed the role of center, making up a group of four juniors and a sophomore.
"We hoped that [running back] Kendall [Hunter] and some of the wideouts we had could make plays for us and we’d overcome some deficiencies in the offensive line," Gundy said. "Later, we found out they were pretty talented and they were able to work well as a group and make some plays."
What looked like a patchwork offensive line eventually developed into one of the Big 12's best, helping pave the way for Hunter and give Weeden time to quarterback the nation's No. 3 offense.
"They were just some blue-collar guys that worked well together," Gundy said. "I think they had great leadership from their quarterback and it didn’t hurt that we had a Doak Walker candidate at running back and a Biletnikoff winner at receiver, which takes a lot of pressure off those guys."
The best news now, though? All five are back. Four starters are seniors and Taylor will enter his third season in the starting lineup as a junior.
"Experience is very important in this game at any level and at any position, and when you have experienced guys up front, it gives your quarterback a little sense of security," Gundy said, "and they feel better about themselves and he feels better about his ability to be protected and make some plays."
The line saw progress in spring. It continued into the fall.
"By the end of the year, they were rolling pretty good," Gundy said. "They didn’t just dominate people, but they were really good, sound and didn’t make a lot of mistakes. Because of that, eliminating the errors, made them a good offensive line."
The offense will have to adjust to a new play-caller and a new running back next season, but with the play of the big men up front, their tasks look significantly easier.