OSU trying to keep revolving around center
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Thursday, April 05, 2012
4/05/12 at 5:47 AM
Gundy on 2012: 'I expect to win a lot of football games.'
STILLWATER - In seven seasons since Mike Gundy became Oklahoma State's head football coach, the offensive line indisputably has been the program's most consistently solid position group.
In four consecutive seasons - 2006-09 - the Cowboys led the Big 12 in rushing. During the 2010 and 2011 seasons, OSU executed a different type of offense - an uptempo spread attack. The offensive line became one of college football's better pass-protection units. On a combined two-year total of more than 1,100 pass attempts, OSU gave up only 22 sacks.
Oklahoma State's Joe Wickline-coached lines have been anchored by centers who were armed not only with the physical wherewithal to effectively play the position, but with the football IQ necessary to read defenses and convey pre-snap blocking assignments to guards and tackles.
Center David Washington (40 career starts) was succeeded by Andrew Lewis (39 career starts). Lewis was succeeded by Grant Garner. When Garner became the starter in 2010, the coaches weren't completely sure what to expect. As a senior in 2011, Garner was the Big 12's offensive lineman of the year.
Wickline constantly pops his linemen with derisive but good-natured comments. His summary of Garner's career: "I'll never admit the fact that I appreciate Grant Garner. I put up with him for seven long years."
The truth is, Garner was one of Wickline's all-time favorites. Now, during the spring-practice session, Wickline is evaluating the progress of two players - senior Evan Epstein and third-year sophomore Jake Jenkins - who aspire to become Garner's successor at center.
"I was fortunate to be a center when Andrew Lewis was here and when Grant Garner was here," said Epstein, a McKinney, Texas, native who in 2009 transferred to OSU from the Air Force Academy. "I've talked a lot with those guys. They were great players. I don't feel pressure, but I want to work as hard as I can so that I can make them proud. I learned so much from Grant.
"What a lot of people don't understand is how much a cerebral role that the center plays in this offense. Timing, tempo, calling blocking assignments. Needless to say, it's a lot of responsibility."
When the Cowboys open the 2012 season against visiting Savannah State on Sept. 1, the 6-foot-3, 291-pound Epstein is expected to start in the middle.
"The older guy (Epstein) is a little further along. A little stronger and a little bigger," Wickline said. "He's had a few more snaps. But there's still a lot of spring and summer left to go.
"With the physical aspects of the position, (Epstein and Jenkins) will be fine. They will have to learn the recognition aspect of the position - seeing the defense and making calls."
At each of the other four offensive-line positions, OSU is experienced. Former Sand Springs star Michael Bowie returns at left tackle. His backup is Devin Davis - a redshirt freshman considered a rising star. Sixth-year senior Jonathan Rush is back at left guard. With 36 career starts, senior right guard Lane Taylor is the most experienced player in the program. The most spirited competition occurs at right tackle and involves junior Parker Graham and sophomores Daniel Koenig and Joe Okafor.
"We'll be better on the offensive line this season than we were (in 2010 and 2011)," Gundy said. "I think we'll be fine at center."
Wickline expressed confidence that Oklahoma State will continue to get excellence and leadership from its center.
"Everything is a cycle," he said. "At one time, David Washington was new. At one time, Andrew Lewis was new. At one time, Grant Garner was completely inexperienced. Now, Epstein and Jenkins have never played.
"You just hope that the system takes care of it. You hope that your older guards help with the adjustment. That's just part of the deal, you know."
A review of OSU's O-line success
A review of Oklahoma State's 2006-11 performance on the offensive line:
Starters: Corey Hilliard and Brady Bond at left tackle, David Koenig at left guard, David Washington at center, Kurt Seifried at right guard, Russell Okung and Hilliard at right tackle.
Rushing: 208.0 yards per game (led Big 12).
Pass protection: 18 sacks allowed.
Starters: Russell Okung at left tackle, David Koenig and Andrew Lewis at left guard, David Washington and Andrew Lewis at center, Steve Denning and David Koenig at right guard, Brady Bond at right tackle.
Rushing: 243.2 yards per game (led Big 12).
Pass protection: 11 sacks allowed.
Starters: Russell Okung at left tackle, Andrew Lewis at left guard, David Washington at center, Steve Denning at right guard, Brady Bond at right tackle.
Rushing: 245.5 yards per game (led Big 12).
Pass protection: 16 sacks allowed.
Honors: Okung, All-Big 12.
Starters: Russell Okung at left tackle, Noah Franklin at left guard, Andrew Lewis at center; Lane Taylor, Andrew Mitchell and Anthony Morgan at right guard; Brady Bond and Andrew Mitchell at right tackle.
Rushing: 187.8 yards per game (led Big 12).
Pass protection: 12 sacks allowed.
Honors: Okung, unanimous All-American.
Starters: Nick Martinez and Levy Adcock at left tackle, Jonathan Rush at left guard, Grant Garner at center, Lane Taylor at right guard, Levy Adcock and Nick Martinez at right tackle.
Rushing: 174.4 yards per game.
Pass protection: 10 sacks allowed.
Honors: Adcock, All-Big 12.
Starters: Michael Bowie, Levy Adcock, Nick Martinez and Parker Graham at left tackle; Martinez and Jonathan Rush at left guard, Grant Garner and Casey LaBrue at center, Lane Taylor and Martinez at right guard, Adcock and Parker Graham at right tackle.
Rushing: 158.6 yards per game.
Pass protection: 12 sacks allowed.
Honors: Adcock, consensus All-American and All-Big 12; Garner, Big 12 offensive lineman of the year.
Original Print Headline: OSU trying to keep revolving around center
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
Offensive line coach Joe Wickline puts linemen through a drill during spring practice Wednesday in Stillwater. The offensive line will have to replace several starters from an award-winning unit last year. KT KING/For the Tulsa World
Evan Epstein (left) and Jake Jenkins: The two are candidates to replace Grant Garner at center. "What a lot of people don't understand is how much a cerebral role that the center plays in this offense," Epstein said of the role of a center in the Cowboys' offense.