In Texas' transition from a West Coast-style passing game to a pro-style attack that utilizes runs to set up play action, no unit is more important to offensive success than the offensive line.
Texas lost four starters to graduation last season, and with a new system in place, the line must be as strong as ever for the offense to produce.
At center, the Longhorns have a good junior prospect in David Snow, who's played in 27 games and started seven (with a few starts at guard).
He's the likely starter, but two other prospects that might get some playing time are redshirt sophomore Garrett Porter and freshman Dominic Espinosa.
Porter was a four-star recruit out of high school but didn't see much of the field in his first year. Porter has an additional advantage in his beard, a beard that will distract opposing defensive linemen, giving him a head start on all of his opponents.
Espinosa was the No. 1 center prospect coming out of high school for a reason. Particularly in the running game, Espinosa is a dominating force that will help Texas' inside running game produce through the one and two holes. He will create more pancakes than IHOP (cringe) on his way to becoming a great lineman.
As Texas transitions to a run-first offense, the talents of Espinosa will no doubt come in handy, but not quite yet. Coaches can't ignore experience, and experience is something that Snow has.
Guard Michael Huey, despite his slightly feminine appearance, looks to provide experience on the right side of the line. Huey, who was voted All-Big 12 honorable mention after the 2009 season, must continue his solid play, particularly in the running game, in which he performs really well.
At the other guard spot is a senior, yet one who lacks experience. Tray Allen, who has only played on special teams up to this point, must step up and learn to run block. Because blocking for punts is closer to pass blocking than run blocking, Allen will be lacking in the power-blocking department.
Redshirt sophomore Mark Buchanan, who has six games of experience, will back up Allen. Buchanan is also a good run blocker, and since he is a younger player, he can learn the system as the system becomes natural for Texas linemen. He may see the field a lot this year, as Allen is not a sure bet to start on the line.
There is another possible scenario for the guards, however. It would involve moving junior center David Snow to right guard and having either Porter or Espinosa hold down the middle. This will only be the case if Allen doesn't perform well enough and gives up penetration into the backfield too often.
At left tackle, senior Kyle Hix will block for Garrett Gilbert's blind side. Hix is a solid lineman all-around and is good in both the run and the pass. Hix's only issue (from the high school film that I watched) is that he will occasionally miss blitzing linebackers, which is what happened in the national championship game when Gilbert was sacked and forced to fumble by Alabama linebacker Eryk Anders.
Despite this problem, Hix was still named to the preseason All-Big 12 team. If he plays like an All-Big 12 lineman, then outside runs and play action passing will be very effective.
At right tackle, another senior in Britt Mitchell will attempt to hold down the fort. After switching from tight end to tackle during his redshirt freshman year due to his blocking skills, Mitchell has played in 39 games during his four-year career.
Backing up Mitchell will be redshirt freshman Mason Walters, who got a medical redshirt after being injured during his freshman year. The injury was severe enough that he was held out of the spring game. If Mitchell can stay healthy, he should be a dominant force, as he was rated as the second-best offensive tackle recruit coming out of high school according to Rivals.
Overall, the line looks to be all right and not so much better or worse than last year's. The biggest problem looks to be the second guard spot. But with Texas' offensive adjustment, so too must the linemen adjust.
Don't expect gigantic numbers from the Texas offense this year. With both a style change and a loss of starters, the Longhorns look to be rebuilding somewhat on the offensive side of things.
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