Offensive line was an area where many teams across the league struggled a year ago. So how does the position shake out headed into 2015? Jared Shanker and Andrea Adelson pick the units they believe are the best in the ACC.
AA says: Georgia Tech. The Jackets had the best offensive line a year ago and return four starters, so they are the slam-dunk choice as the best unit headed into the season. After all, Georgia Tech led the nation in rushing (342.1 ypg) and ranked second in sacks allowed (0.79 per game), though that second stat is a bit skewed because the run game is such a heavy emphasis.
So let’s focus on the run game numbers. For the triple-option to work, the quarterbacks, backs and offensive line have to be one cohesive unit. Justin Thomas excelled as the ringleader, and the backs made some big-time plays. But the offensive line deserves credit, too, especially since it had only one All-ACC player in Shaq Mason.
He is gone, and Shamire Devine is expected to take his spot on the line. There are veterans all around him. Center Freddie Burden and left guard Trey Braun started every game last season; left tackle Bryan Chamberlain started 13; and right tackle Errin Joe started the final seven. In all, the four have combined for 64 career starts. None of them made the preseason All-ACC team, but this is not a unit that needs individual standouts to excel. Everyone must do his part.
That is a big reason why Georgia Tech ended up rushing for more yards than any other team in school history (4,789). Thomas, Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey, Charles Perkins, Tony Zenon and company ran hard. The offensive line played hard. While coach Paul Johnson routinely has to defend their cut-blocking technique, it is hard to argue with the way the Jackets played last season.
JS says: Year-to-year consistency at Georgia Tech is never a slam dunk, Andrea. With linchpin Shaq Mason no longer in Atlanta, the group could have a tough time keeping the level from a season ago.
If you’re of the belief that continuity breeds cohesion and eventually success along the offensive line, then North Carolina, with its 100 combined starts, would be the choice for the conference’s best offensive line this preseason.
Granted there will be changes along an offensive front that does return five starters, but those adjustments will improve the Tar Heels. Bentley Spain, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound blue-chip from the 2014 class, has taken control of Marquise Williams’ blind side at left tackle. He has All-ACC potential, and the staff is confident in Spain. Jared Cohen, another sophomore, eventually could wrest the left guard position from Caleb Peterson.
The right side of the line should be solid in Chapel Hill. Lucas Crowley is a solid center, and tackle Jon Heck should win the job over John Ferranto, who gave way to Spain on the left side. Guard Landon Turner, a potential All-American, will make both better, which is why coach Larry Fedora could call for running backs T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood to explore the right side of the line more often than the left on rushing plays.
For the Heels to have the conference’s best offensive line by season’s end, however, ultimately they have to perform better. The Heels’ experience is a crutch in this argument considering the offensive line was hardly dominant last season, but it at least gives them a preseason leg to stand on. With ACC juggernauts Florida State and Clemson retooling up front, there are slim pickings within the conference.