We'll start our position-by-position look at the 2010 Jackets with the guys that make it all happen when we have the ball, the offensive line. If you read the national publications or the pundits that get paid to analyze teams, they frequently sight the fact that we have only two starters returning on the offensive line and that we have to "rebuild" our line this year. Not so fast my friends.....We actually return four starters from last year and will have the best offensive line we've had under CPJ at Tech. Anyone that closely follows the program knows that Phil Smith had overtaken Brad Sellers at tackle midway through last year. Smith was playing very well until he broke his ankle early in the ACC Championship game. Add to Bedford, Barrick & Smith one Omoregie Uzzi, who while not starting last year, played more extensive minutes than Joe Gilbert, the starter. So while others contend we have two returning starters, I'll go with four. Furthermore, we're finally in a position where we are able to play athletes specifically recruited for this offense. Let's break the line down:
Sean Bedford anchors our offensive line in 2010
- Center: it all starts in the middle for our offense & we're in great shape with the return of RS senior Sean Bedford. A deserving first team All-ACC pick last season, Bedford's ascent from walk-on defensive lineman to offensive mainstay has been well documented. While undersized, Bedford uses great technique & quickness to leverage defensive linemen & pave the way for the dive, the first of our three options. What is a surprise this Fall is how hard Bedford is being pushed by RS freshman Jay Finch. Teammates say Finch is "country" strong & has really gotten a grasp of the position. While I don't expect Finch to overtake Bedford, it's comforting to know we have a solid back-up this season & a future starter next year in the fold.
Omoregie Uzzi is poised for a breakout year
- Guard: with the loss of two-time All-ACC pick Cord Howard you might expect a drop off at guard. I'll argue that we're plugging in a player with less experience but even more potential in Omoregie Uzzi. Uzzi is a physically imposing presence at 6'2" & 315 pounds who carries his weight well & is still able to move, a pre-requisite in our offense. I think the RS sophomore will prove every bit as good as Howard this year & I expect an All-ACC type season. Ray Beno (RS freshman) will back up Uzzi while continuing to develop in the system. At the other guard spot it looks like a two man battle for the starting slot between RS sophomore Nick McRae and RS freshman Will Jackson. Both players have done everything asked of them this off-season accroding to their teammates & coaches & it should be a heated battle that goes down to the wire. I doubt we know who starts until the week of the SC State game and even then it may change throughout the season. My sense is that Jackson has more upside but may not be as ready as McRae right now.
- Tackle: we have plenty of depth at tackle with three players who have started at one point or another in their career returning. My top choice at tackle is RS sophomore Phil Smith. Smith is a physical player who plays with some attitude, something the staff likes. I expect "Philthy" to claim one tackle spot. Austin Barrick returns at the other spot for his final year , bringing two years of string experience to the line. While undersized, Barrick has played adequately throughout his career. The unknown in all this is senior Nick Claytor. Claytor has a wealth of talent but has been injured throughout his career on the Flats. If he can stay healthy (a big if), he could certainly play in the rotation at tackle.
- Freshman: two freshman have an outside chance to play this year in Morgan Bailey & Catlin Alford. While I expect & would prefer them to redshirt, both players showed up at Tech n excellent physical condition and may force their way into consideration. Bailey looks particularly impressive both in person & on film & it won't surprise me if he becomes a fixture on the line in the future.
This will be the best offensive line we've fielded since CPJ's arrival; we finally have players specifically recruited to this system who are ready to contribute. We have a nice mix of veterans & youth and we're two deep at every position. We're so deep, in fact, that Bedford has begun to call the line "The Expendables"; if one guy goes down there's another ready to step right in. There's talent on the line: I expect both Bedford & Uzzi to contend for conference honors this season. In sum, our line will be improved this season. And that is a big part why we will improve offensively this year. Everyone expects us to go backwards with the loss of Dwyer & BayBay - I don't see that happening. We'll continue to average over 30 points-per-game & terrorize every defense we face.......
Post Script: CPJ said after Monday's practice that both freshman, Alford & Bailey, will likely redshirt. Alford is working at left tackle & weighed in at a LEAN 295#. Bailey is 285# and working at guard.