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Constant Subbing, Rotations Should Pay Dividends for OSU’s OL

How higher numbers and moving parts could benefit the O-line down the season’s stretch.



Make no mistake about it, Oklahoma State is trying to improve up front not just for Weeks 1-3, but for the long haul.

In only Year 2 of its renaissance under Josh Henson, the Cowboys offensive line has already improved, and the two-time Rivals top 25 recruiter has added bodies, pushing the total number of linemen up to 24.

A group that in recent years totaled “15 or 16” (which was “kind of scary”), Oklahoma State saw 15 offensive linemen take the field on either offense or special teams in Thursday’s season opener.

Arlington Hambright*
Larry Williams*
Johnny Wilson*
Share Richards *
Teven Jenkins*
Marcus Keyes
Deionte Noel
Dylan Galloway
Larry Joubert
Matt Kegel
Walker Reed
Ry Schneider
Tyrese Williams
Brett Wilson
Matt McClurg

With all of those fresh faces and with some new rotations, what did Mike Gundy think of his OL’s performance after Game 1?

“Average at best.”

Maybe that comes with the territory when you’re replacing 113 starts from three positions from a year ago. Or when seven underclassmen see the field.

“I don’t know if any of them played great,” Gundy continued on Monday. “There were times they played well as a group, and then there were times where they turned people loose. Four or five times we turned people loose. A couple of times it was on a turn protection, which is a very basic protection.”

FCS team or not, the Cowboys did rush the ball for over 400 yards at 8 yards per carry. We’ll give the guys up front some of the credit for that. But for OSU to contend in the Big 12, continued improvement will be key.

“With the skill we have at the running back position, it’s important that we cover guys up,” said Gundy. “I think we’ll get a little bit better each week at it. I had mentioned that when you have some new guys working together, I felt like October 1 was a good mark for us to be able to look and say that these guys are really starting to play better. Like some of the other positions, hopefully they’ll minimize some of those missed assignments in Saturday’s game.”

Changing of the Guard(s)

Henson used his glorified scrimmage against Missouri State as a chance to get several players reps and in several different spots. In fact, the interior of the OL saw seven different iterations while the starters were on the field against Missouri State.

Here’s a great breakdown courtesy of Mark Cooper of the Tulsa World.

Drives 1-2: Larry Williams (LG)/Johnny Wilson (C)/Shane Richards (RG)
Drive 3: Marcus Keyes/Wilson/Williams
Drive 4: Keyes/Wilson/Richards
Drives 5-7: Deionte Noel/Wilson/Williams
Drive 8: Keyes/Wilson/Richards
Drives 9-11: Williams/Noel/Richards
Drive 12: Keyes/Noel/Richards

Larry Williams, who began each of the previous two seasons as OSU’s starting right guard, started the game left of center. He took the place of Marcus Keyes who in 27 career games came off of the bench for the very first time.

Shane Richards, who redshirted last year, started at right guard. Johnny Wilson started at center and was spelled by guard Deointe Noel later. Then in mop-up duty, redshirt sophomore Ry Schneider handled snaps at center, flanked by Larry Joubert and Matt Kegel at either guard position.

At Tuesday’s practice, Larry Williams discussed all those moving parts in the middle of OSU’s front and how the group has handled the change.

“I think it’s good because Deionte (Noel) is going in there at center, and that’s something new for him, and Marcus (Keyes) has been a starter pretty much since he’s been able to play, other than his redshirt year, so it’s new for him,” said Williams.

“Honestly, I feel like there’s a lot of people that are embracing it. There’s a lot of people who had frustration at first, or ‘I don’t wanna do this, I don’t wanna do that,’ but I feel like we’re pulling together as a unit, and we’re cheering for each other when they go out on the field. We make sure that they’re positive, and they’re making good progressions to help the team.”

Getting multiple guys up to speed at multiple positions seems like a good idea, especially for an offense that averaged less than 70 plays per game just once in the previous eight years (69.8 in 2014).

On Thursday, the Cowboys tested the wind of their starters, going two full drives and 22 plays — and seeing four different running backs line up in the backfield — before a single lineman (Keyes) subbed in. Keyes Noel will likely be in a seven-man rotation, though that could be expanded or contracted based on opponent and situation.

“We feel like we have more than two guards that can play,” said Gundy. “We talked about this a week ago and we feel like it’s an advantage to be able to keep guys fresh, and we haven’t had that advantage. Hopefully, we can keep those seven guys rotating in as we move forward and try to keep some of those guys fresh.”


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