Big Ten Football: The Best Offensive Linemen of the Decade 2001-2010

David Fidler Correspondent IApril 11, 2011

Big Ten Football: The Best Offensive Linemen of the Decade 2001-2010

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    The job of the offensive lineman is the least glorious position in all of football.

    An offensive lineman isn't supposed to touch the ball. An offensive lineman isn't supposed to score a touchdown. The only time most people notice an O-lineman is when he messes up. Meanwhile, people notice the exploits of the quarterback, running back and receiver, despite the fact that it is the lineman's dirty work that makes their heroics possible.

    In the end, it might be the most inglorious job in football, but it is also, in a way, the most important. The offensive line is the foundation upon which the success of the entire offense rests.

    There is a reason that left tackle is, on average, the second highest paid position in the NFL. Because it is the left tackle's job to guard the blind side and essentially protect the highest-paid player in the NFL, the quarterback.

    Needless to say, the other four offensive line position are not quite as well compensated (except for a right tackle when blocking for a left-handed quarterback). Nevertheless, when a receiver messes up, it often goes unnoticed. On the other hand, when the right guard messes up, either the quarterback or running back usually finds his face in the mud.

    And faces in the mud and line play are well known in the Big Ten; the only major division, where every team plays in the frigid cold, snow and the worst of the elements. Of course, it is at these times when the line has to shine.

    The following 15 players have shined particularly bright over the past 10 years, and for that, many of them have heard their names called amongst the top five draft picks in their respective years.

    Unlike the other installments in this series, there really is no order to the top 10 of this group. Ultimately, there is no way to measure one against the other.

    On the other hand, as with the other installments in this series, the players were chosen based on their production and presence on the college football field over a period of time.

    Big Ten Football: The Best Defensive Linemen of the Decade 2001-2010

    Big Ten Football: The Best Linebackers of the Decade 2001-2010

    Big Ten Football: The Best Defensive Backs of the Decade 2001-2010

Honorable Mention (In No Particular Order)

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    John Moffitt: Wisconsin Badgers C/G, 2006-2010 (redshirt year 2006)

    Nick Mangold: Ohio State Buckeyes C, 2002-2005

    Tony Pape: Michigan Wolverines T, 2000-2003

    Adam Stenavich: Michigan Wolverines T, 2001-2005 (redshirt year 2001)

    Al Johnson: Wisconsin Badgers C, 1999-2002

Levi Brown: Penn State Nittany Lions T 2002-2006

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    Pre-College: Brown came to State College out of Norfolk Virginia, where he was a heavily-recruited defensive tackle prospect.

    College Highlights: Brown redshirted his freshman season.

    He moved to the offense in his first active season, where he started all 12 games at left tackle. Penn State, and particularly the offense struggled, but Brown's star began to rise.

    In 2004, he moved to right tackle to block quarterback Zach Mills' blind side. Once again, the offense struggled mightily, but Brown again shone.

    In 2005, the Nits' fortunes began to turn around, and and their junior left tackle was a large part of it. PSU had the second highest scoring offense in the conference, as well as the second highest rushing offense. The line only gave up 14 sacks.

    Brown was individually honored by being named first team All-Big Ten, as well as receiving votes on various All-American teams.

    Brown opted to return for his senior season, during which the Penn State offense regressed with a new quarterback. Nevertheless, Brown was once again selected as an All-Conference player, and he received various nods as an All-American.

    Post-College: The Arizona Cardinals selected Brown with the fifth pick of the 2007 NFL draft.

    Brown played in 13 games during his rookie season and started 11. Since the beginning of the 2008 season, Brown has started 48 games in a row at left tackle.

Eric Steinbach: Iowa Hawkeyes G, 1998-2002

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    Pre-College: Steinbach went to high school at Providence Catholic in Lockport, Illinois. He played both sides of the ball, but he projected to play tight end at the next level. He was lightly recruited out of high school.

    College Highlights: Steinbach redshirted his first year on campus.

    Steinbach primarily served as a backup at the beginning of his second-year freshman campaign. However, he ascended the depth charts and started the final four games of the season at left guard.

    He missed a large portion of his sophomore year, due to injuries.

    The injury bug also bit during his junior year, as he could only play in nine games, all of which he started at left guard. Despite the injuries, he was a key part of the line that led the Big Ten in scoring with 32.6 points per game. The offense generated 393.5 yards per game and 175.3 yards rushing per game.

    Steinbach was individually awarded by being named first team All-Big Ten.

    He finally got healthy in 2002 and started all 13 games at left guard. The line only let up 12 sacks in 13 games. The offense scored an Iowa record of 37.2 points per game. They put up 424.46 yards per game and 214.15 yards rushing per game.

    Steinbach was named first team All-Big Ten, consensus All-American and the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year.

    Post-College: Steinbach was selected 33rd overall in the 2003 draft. He was chosen by the Cincinnati Bengals.

    He immediately took over a starting guard position which he maintained through 2006.

    Following the 2006 season, he became a free agent and signed with the Cleveland Browns, where he has been the starting left guard for four straight seasons.

A.Q. Shipley: Penn State Nittany Lions C, 2004-2008

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    Pre-College: Shipley came from Coraopolis, Pennsylvania. He was highly-recruited and projected to play either offensive line or defensive tackle.

    College Highlights: Shipley redshirted his first year on campus.

    In his freshman year, he began the season on the defense and then switched to the offense prior to spring practice. After providing offensive line depth for the first half of the season, Shipley was moved back to defensive tackle for the last six games, where he saw action in all of the Nits' remaining contests.

    As a sophomore, he moved back to the offense where he started at center for the entire season, and was instrumental in helping Tony Hunt grab his second 1,000-yard season in a row.

    In 2007, Shipley once again started every game at center. For his efforts, he was named first-team All-Big Ten.

    As a senior, Shipley anchored the top scoring unit in the Big Ten. The Lions averaged 38.6 points per game, had over 200 yards per game on the ground and only allowed 13 sacks on the season.

    Shipley was once again named first-team All-Big Ten. He was also consensus All-American, the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and the Rimington Trophy winner as the nation's best center.

    Post-College: Shipley fell to the seventh round of the 2009 draft. He was taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Since then, he has played on the practice squads of both the Steelers and the Eagles.

LeCharles Bentley: Ohio State Buckeyes C, 1998-2001

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    Pre-College: Bentley was a moderately-recruited offensive lineman out of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland.

    College Highlights: Bentley played in his first year on campus but mostly served as a backup.

    As a sophomore, he moved into the starting center position. Though the team did poorly (by Ohio State standards), Bentley stood out and was named second-team All-Big Ten.

    As a junior, the Buckeyes went 8-4, leading to the dismissal of their head coach. However, once again, Bentley played well, earning first-team All-Big Ten laurels.

    As a senior, under first year head coach Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes were once again a mediocre 7-5 but showed signs of improvement. As for Bentley, he was first team All-Big Ten, consensus All-American, the Big Ten Lineman of the Year and the Rimington Trophy winner.

    Post-College: The New Orleans Saints took Bentley 44th overall in the 2002 draft.

    For his first two seasons, he moved to guard and became a starter. In 2003, he was named to the Pro Bowl.

    He moved back to center in 2004 and remained there through 2005, earning his second Pro Bowl selection.

    After 2005, he left the Saints, saying he would rather sit out than play there again.

    He eventually signed with the Browns but suffered a severe knee injury during training camp that kept him out for the entire season. After remaining out of football through 2008, he officially announced his retirement in 2009.

Gabe Carimi: Wisconsin Badgers T, 2006-2010

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    Pre-College: Carimi was a moderately-recruited prospect out of Monona, Wisconsin. He projected to play on either side of the line. 

    College Highlights: Carimi redshirted his first year on campus.

    As a second-year freshman, he earned the starting left tackle spot, where he played in all 13 of UW's games. He was named second-team freshman All-American by numerous publications.

    In his sophomore year, he only started 10 games, as he struggled with some injuries.

    However, as a junior he was back to form, starting all 13 games, and leading the 15th-ranked rushing offense in the country. For his efforts, Carimi was selected to as a first-team All-Big Ten player.

    In 2010, he anchored one of the best offensive lines in the country. The Badgers had two 1,000-yard rushers plus another player that ran for 996 yards. Overall, they had the 12th most productive rushing offense in the country, as well as the fifth-best scoring offense. Moreover, the line only allowed 12 sacks on the season.

    Personally, Carimi was named first-team All-Big Ten, consensus All-American, the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, and he won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best interior lineman.

    Post-College: Carimi projects to be drafted in the mid-late first round of the 2011 NFL draft.

Robert Gallery: Iowa Hawkeyes T, 1999-2003

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    Pre-College: Gallery was a lightly-recruited tight end prospect out of Masonville, Iowa. His only other FBS offer came from Iowa State.

    College Highlights: Gallery redshirted his first year on campus.

    He started at tight end at the beginning of his second year and caught three passes for 52 yards. However, he moved to tackle before the Big Ten season opener. He started at right tackle for the final six games of the season.

    In 2001, he moved to left tackle and started all 12 games. He was a key member of an offense that led the Big Ten in scoring with 32.6 points per game. The offense generated 393.5 yards per game and 175.3 yards rushing per game.

    In 2002, Gallery started all 13 games at left tackle. The line only let up 12 sacks in 13 games. The offense scored an Iowa record of 37.2 points per game. They put up 424.46 yards per game and 214.15 yards rushing per game. Gallery was individually honored by being named first-team All-Big Ten.

    Gallery opted to come back for his senior year and anchored the newly rebuilt line at the left tackle position. The offense scored 28.69 points per game and generated 172.92 yards per game on the ground.

    Gallery was once again first-team All-Big Ten. He was also a consensus All-American, the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and the Outland Trophy winner.

    Post-College: The Oakland Raiders chose Gallery second overall in the 2004 NFL draft.

    Gallery began his career at right tackle and was moved to left tackle in 2006. After three seasons at tackle, Gallery became the personification of the word "bust." He was then moved to guard at the beginning of the 2007 season.

    He has remained the Raiders' starting left guard, and while a guard is never as valued as a tackle, he has since become one of the steadier guards in the NFL.

Jake Long: Michigan Wolverines T, 2003-2007

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    Pre-College: Long was a heavily-recruited lineman out of Lapeer, Michigan.

    College Highlights: Long redshirted his first year on campus.

    In his first active year, he began as a reserve tackle but eventually won the starting right tackle job. En route to a conference championship, the Michigan offense was the second highest scoring offense in the Big Ten. Long was named second team All-Big Ten by the coaches.

    Long missed the majority of his sophomore season with multiple leg injuries.

    As a junior, Long was moved from right tackle to left, where he blocked quarterback Chad Henne's blind side. The Wolverines had the second highest scoring offense in the Big Ten.

    Long was individually recognized as a first-team All-Big Ten selection, a consensus All-American and the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year.

    Long opted to remain in college and use up his eligibility. Unfortunately, the 2007 Wolverines didn't do as well as expected, but Long delivered his usual workman-like play.

    He was once again first-team All-Big Ten, unanimous All-American and he won the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year for the second year in a row.

    Post-College: Long was the first player selected in the 2008 draft. He was chosen by the Miami Dolphins. He immediately assumed the starting left tackle position and has manned the spot for three straight seasons, earning All-Pro honors in 2009 and 2010.

Joe Thomas: Wisconsin Badgers T, 2003-2006

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    Pre-College: Thomas came to the Badgers out of Brookfield, Wisconsin. At the high school level, he played offensive tackle, defensive end, tight end, fullback, placekicker and punter. He was moderately recruited and projected to play tight end or defensive end at the next level.

    College Highlights: In his true freshman year, Thomas mostly lined up as a blocking tight end.

    He took over the left tackle spot as sophomore, and started all 12 games. For his efforts, he was an honorable mention all-conference player.

    In 2005, Thomas started all 13 games for the third-highest scoring offense in the conference. He was named first team All-Big Ten.

    Opting to return for his senior season, the Badgers had the second-highest scoring offense and the fourth-best rushing offense in the conference.

    Thomas was first-team All-Big Ten, a consensus All-American and the Outland Trophy winner.

    Post-College: The Cleveland Browns selected Thomas third overall in the 2007 NFL draft.

    He won the starting left tackle job in his rookie season and has retained it since. Moreover, he has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons in the NFL.

David Baas: Michigan Wolverines G/C, 2000-2004

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    Pre-College: Baas was a highly-recruited offensive lineman out of Sarasota, Florida.

    College Highlights: Baas redshirted his first year on campus.

    In his second year, he mostly served as a backup, though he did start one game at left guard.

    He became a starter during his sophomore year, where he started all 12 games, and was awarded with first team all-conference honors.

    He remained the starting left guard as a junior, helping to lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten championship and the second-highest scoring offense in the Big Ten. Baas was individually selected first team All-Big Ten.

    As a senior, Baas began the year at guard, but switched to center before the conference slate began. UM was once again the second highest scoring offense in the conference. Baas was selected as first team All-Big Ten and consensus All-American. He also was named the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and was the co-recipient of the Rimington Trophy.

    Post- College: The San Francisco 49ers chose Baas 33rd overall in the 2005 draft.

    Being a decidedly versatile player, Baas served in a reserve guard/center role for his first four years as a professional.

    He became the Niners' starting left guard in 2009 and maintained that role through 2010.

Greg Eslinger: Minnesota Golden Gophers C, 2002-2005

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    Pre-College: Eslinger was an offensive line prospect out of Bismark, North Dakota. He had no FBS offers other than Minnesota.

    College Highlights: Eslinger took over the starting center job his first year on campus. Head coach Glen Mason's rush-heavy offensive scheme called for small, speedy centers and guards that could pull, and Eslinger fit the bill perfectly.  

    In Eslinger's freshman year, the Gophers had the third-best rushing offense in the conference. For his efforts, Eslinger was named to the freshman All-American team.

    In 2003-2005, Minnesota maintained the top rushing offense in the conference. Eslinger was a large part of the formula, as he paved the way for multiple thousand yard rushers in Marion Barber III, Laurence Maroney and Gary Russell. 

    Moreover, in 2003, the line let up 16 sacks. In 2004, they let up nine. And in 2005, the line let the defense get to the quarterback only three times.

    Eslinger was named first-team All-Big Ten in each of those years. He also found himself selected to some All-American teams in 2004 and was a consensus All-American in 2005.

    Furthermore, in 2005, he won the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, the Outland Trophy and the Rimington Trophy.

    Post-College: Unfortunately, smallish, speedy centers aren't as valued in the NFL as they were in Glen Mason's offense. In effect, Eslinger fell to the sixth round of the 2006 draft, where he was selected by the Denver Broncos.

    He has spent his professional career bouncing around a number of practice squads, as well as playing for NFL Europe. He has been inactive since 2009.