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Baylor Football 2014 Position Previews: Offensive Line and Tight Ends

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Finally time for those hog-mollies up front to get their due.

#93 is Brandon Jensen.  He's 6-5.
#93 is Brandon Jensen. He's 6-5.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

If you were one of the (apparently) few to read last year's OL/TE preview, you know that this one will be a little different than the others.  The TE portion will be much as you expect, with each player listed by seniority.  For the OL, however, I'm breaking things up by starters, backups, and reserves.  You'll see what I mean.  There are just too many of them to list out individually, but even this way, we should hit everyone down the line.

TIGHT ENDS

Eligibility Remaining
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
15 Gus Penning JR 6-6/240 Tight End
41 Tre'Von Armstead
SO 6-6/270 Tight End
85 Jordan Feuerbacher
FR 6-4/245 Tight End

Obviously, the first thing that springs to mind here is that there are just 3 names listed for Baylor at the TE position.  Even with the immense faith I have in Penning and Armstead this coming season, I don't consider this a good thing.  Look for Baylor to search around a bit to add another in the 2015 class, particularly in light of the fact that there is a name missing from the 2014 recruiting class that most probably expected to see.

When he committed to Baylor in May 2013, we talked a bit about how Blake Mahon had been thrown from a horse in high school, breaking his back in two places.  This past weekend, BearsTruth reported that lasting damage from that injury will cost Mahon this coming season and potentially his Baylor career (BT made it sound like he was done completely, but that hasn't been confirmed).  Mahon hadn't been on the latest rosters posted, and now it seems we know why.  If he's truly done, I expect that he will receive a medical scholarship from the University and remain with the team in some fashion.  But that's why we only have 3.

For the TE position as a whole, there's a relatively high amount of uncertainty going into 2014.  With both Jordan Najvar and Jerod Monk graduated, we're going to be breaking in one new starter, at least, this season.  It's no secret who I think that will be, and I expect that Armstead's combination of size, strength, and quickness will provide a formidable weapon to the Baylor offense in both the running and passing games.

Gus Penning -- JR -- #15 -- 6-6, 240 pounds

After arriving at Baylor in January from Grand Rapids CC in Riverside, California, Penning played in just two games in 2014, sitting out six because of a foot injury.  He'll now compete with Armstead for the starting role, though I suspect that their actual roles will be quite different.

Unlike in years past, when we were spoiled by having two largely interchangeable pieces in Najvar and Monk, it's much easier to see Penning and Armstead slide into the archetypal roles of pass-catcher and blocker, respectively.  That's probably taking something away from both, since I've seen Armstead catch a pass with my own eyes and I'd be willing to bet Penning can block well enough for a TE, but it probably works.  Plus, with the way our offense deemphasizes TEs generally, it makes sense.  I expect for Armstead to get the majority of the playing time due to his skills as a blocker and the fact that you can move him around.  Our coaching staff really seemed to like lining him up in the backfield as a lead blocker last season, and I see no reason why they wouldn't do so again.

Tre'Von Armstead -- SO -- #41 -- 6-6, 270 pounds

I've described him as the Shawn Oakman of the offense before, and I won't back down from that now.  How Baylor uses him this year, after having moved him to the TE position last season, is one of the things I'm looking forward to most.  He's got freakish size and athletic ability, and I can't imagine many DEs in this conference or the country at large standing up to a double team from him and either Drango or Baker.  In addition, as I said above, we've seen our staff move the TEs around quite a bit in recent years to provide more blockers, and that should be another area where Armstead excels.  He's essentially a third tackle clearing holes for our RBs, a proposition that should scare the beejesus out of opposing DCs.

Jordan Feuerbacher -- FR -- #85 -- 6-4, 245 pounds

I have the freshman from Kingwood, Texas redshirting this year behind Armstead and Penning, barring injury.  He's going to be a big part of Baylor's offense down the road, but he needs to gain size and strength to be the blocker our offense requires.  Thankfully, we'll have all three of these guys back in 2015, so he has time.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Starters

Eligibility Remaining
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
58 Spencer Drango JR 6-6/305 Left Tackle
60 LaQuan McGowan
JR 6-7/385* Left Guard
73 Blake Muir
JR 6-6/300 Left Guard
55
Kyle Fuller
SO 6-5/305 Center
67 Desmine Hilliard JR 6-5/340 Right Guard
75 Troy Baker SR 6-7/305 Right Tackle

*Why you playin', Baylor?  We both know he's 4 bills.

From what we know, this is Baylor's starting offensive line as of this moment, with an extra player included to signify the ongoing battle at LG between Muir and McGowan.  Three of last year's starters are back in Drango, Baker, and Hilliard, and they are joined this year by Fuller at center.  With the graduations of Cyril Richardson and Stefan Huber, we're breaking in a new LG and C, for sure, putting us ahead of last year in terms of what we bring back.  Even without Cyril, who cannot be replaced, I'm confident saying that this is one of the best groups we've ever had on the whole.  Assuming McGowan starts, that's a solid 1650 pounds across the five spots. They also average, average, 6-6.

Speaking of McGowan, I honestly don't know how the battle for the LG spot will or should turn out.  The "problem" with LaQuan is pretty easy to see: at 400 pounds, whether he has the stamina to keep up in our offense is yet to be seen.  Still, Briles and company describe him as a "freak athlete" with regularity, and it's hard to imagine them not putting all that potential force to good use.  Muir, given his background as a LT for Hawaii before his transfer, is a much more malleable player.  There was talk in the spring that he might actually start at center before he moved to LG, and on the offensive line, versatility is a big plus.  Unless things are settled definitively somehow in camp, we'll probably see both players rotate at the LG spot based either on the situation or as fatigue demands.

I don't need to talk much about the tackles because they are both known quantities.  Drango is either the best or second-best OT in the conference and a three-year starter.  Baker, though he missed the beginning of last season due to injury, has started games in three consecutive seasons, as well.  Any way you slice it, Baylor has the best pair of tackles in the conference.

Second-Team

Eligibility Remaining
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
76 Jason Osei
SO 6-4/315 Left Tackle




62 Tyler Edwards
SR 6-6/295 Tackle/Center




61 Jarell Broxton
JR 6-5/330 Right Guard




69 Pat Colbert JR 6-6/300 Right Tackle




Because there are 6 players listed on the first team, we have just 4 on the second.  Whoever doesn't win the battle of the LGs will be in this group, eventually.  The rest all slot in relatively easily: Osei at LT, Edwards at C, Broxton at RG, and Colbert at RT.  Of the four, we've seen the most of Edwards and Colbert so far.  On Osei, I won't say much except that unless he's improved significantly from the spring, we're in a bit of trouble should he be called upon to play a lot of LT this season.

Reserves

Eligibility Remaining
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
66 Drew Earnest
JR 6-4/275 Guard/Tackle
-- Rami Hammad ? 6-5/315 Guard/Tackle
73 Ishmael Wilson
RS-FR 6-3/300
Guard/Tackle
74 Sean Muir
RS-FR 6-3/270 Guard/Tackle
53 Keith Orcutt RS-FR 6-4/280 Guard/Tackle
57 Tanner Thrift
RS-FR 6-5/275 Tackle
77 Patrick Lawrence
FR 6-5/275 Tackle
71 Devonte Jones
FR 6-2/305 Guard
72 Blake Blackmar
FR 6-5/325 Center
70 Josh Pelzel
FR 6-6/315* Tackle

*He told me that on Twitter.

This is the group of Baylor reserve OL at this point.  There's a lot of new names here, including that of A&M transfer Ishmael Wilson, none of whom except Earnest have ever set foot on the field for Baylor before.  Because of that fact, I'm guessing a bit on where each player should eventually fit.  I like Pelzel and Lawrence at OTs from the 2014 class, with Blackmar at C and Jones eventually ticketed for guard.  As for Wilson, if he's truly 6-3, he might also eventually play guard for Baylor after he sits out this year due to transferring.  I don't think Baylor has any hope that his request for a waiver to play this year is granted.  Thrift is a new addition to this list from the defensive side last year, and my guess is that he will play tackle eventually, as well.

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You're going to be shocked, but I really like where Baylor's OL is this year.  Whether Muir or McGowan eventually wins, our starting five should be one of the best in the conference, if not the best.  We have experienced, skilled players at tackle leading the way, a returning starter in Hilliard at RG, and a promising sophomore now playing center.  That last one is actually really important; the center handles most of the responsibilities in calling out assignments for the rest of the line, so having someone who is both smart and capable at that spot is a huge plus.  Take those five, throw in Armstead as essentially a third tackle, and you could have something really, really special on your hands.  That's the good news.

The bad news is that our depth, especially at tackle, isn't the best.  I'm not sold on Osei handling the load at all, and Colbert didn't show much in his time there last season, either.  Should Drango go down again, we could be in real trouble.  Inside, I think we'll be ok with Edwards, Broxton, and whoever loses the LG competition as the primary backups.  Outside, though ... we'll just hope Drango and Baker make it through unscathed.