The two most overlooked parts of any team are the offensive line and special teams -- until things go wrong, of course. But line play is generally a measure of how well a team does. A really good offensive line means big running holes and few sacks. A really bad one? Well, just ask any quarterback who has spent way too much time eating turf.
TCU had one of the best offensive lines in football last year (one of the most underrated, too). Outgoing starters Marcus Cannon, Jake Kirkpatrick, Zach Roth and Josh Vernon combined for 96 career starts. TCU ranked No. 10 in the nation in rushing, averaging 247 yards a game. It ranked tied for No. 5 in the nation with nine sacks allowed.
Kirkpatrick won the Rimington Award as the top center in the country; Cannon was an NFL draft pick.
So as experienced as TCU was last season, it is inexperienced headed into 2011. Combine that with an inexperienced quarterback in Casey Pachall, and there are big questions on offense for the Horned Frogs.
"The place we’re going to have to improve on is how we play at the offensive tackle position," coach Gary Patterson said coming out of spring practice. "We’re young there. How they play is going to be very indicative of what we do."
Left guard Kyle Dooley is going into his third year as a starter. But beyond him, the rest of the offensive linemen on the team have a combined nine starts.
Jeff Olson is the only tackle on the roster with any starting experience. He is currently penciled in to start at right tackle. At left tackle, sophomore James Dunbar sits atop the post-spring depth chart. Dunbar did learn behind Cannon as the backup to him, so that is a plus. But behind him, redshirt freshman Nykiren Wellington and Tayo Fabuluje (BYU transfer) have no playing experience at TCU.
New starting center James Fry also was the backup to Kirkpatrick last season, but there is inexperience behind him as well with sophomore Eric Tausch and redshirt freshman Michael Thompson. Right guard Blaize Foltz has two career starts, but already has emerged as a team leader. Backup left guard Spencer Thompson has three starts. In all, there are only three seniors of 11 players listed on the post-spring depth chart.
"Our guards are going to be great," Patterson said. "It comes down to offensive tackle and depth at center."