A sturdy offensive line is an ingredient for any successful football team. Star quarterbacks can’t make those game-inning throws without an offensive tackle protecting the blindside. Running backs who rush for 1,000 yards need offensive guards to break up space on the interior. Those are just the basics.
For the Cincinnati Bearcats, the offensive line has actually been relatively solid the last few years, including the first of the Luke Fickell era. With Ron Crook installed as the offensive lines coach, the Bearcats allowed only 62 tackles for loss and 17 sacks, marks that ranked second and fourth in the American Athletic Conference, respectively.
As with any positional group, the 2018 offensive line is going to look different, both because of departures and additions. It will be up to this new iteration to continue last year’s progress.
Too many players if we’re being honest. Four of the primary starters on the line are gone, so that means no Korey Cunningham, Will Steur, David Niehaus or Kendall Calhoun. Cunningham is the biggest loss. He was a second-team all-conference performer at offensive tackle and started all 12 games last year. Niehaus also started all 12 games, while Calhoun started in all nine games he appeared and Steur started eight times, including each of the last two contests.
There are a lot of players who are back, but very few with as much playing experience as Garrett Campbell. The 6’5”, 315-pound offensive guard was a 12-game starter last season and should return to a starting role once again.
Other players of note include Morgan James, Blake Yager, Kyle Trout, Keith Minor and Zach Bycznski. Trout, a former Ohio State Buckeye, actually started six times and got into nine games overall last year. Minor played in 11 games, but did not start any, although he has some experience in a starting role from previous seasons. James has served as a backup in back-to-back seasons and he played in each of the last five games of 2017. Yager was inserted into nine games in 2017, including the last seven, and Bycznski played in the last four games. Then there’s Joe Schroer, who was listed as a defensive end in 2017 when he sat out after transferring from Ohio State.
The rest of the returning unit is made up of Chris Ferguson, Drew Hartmann, Vincent McConnell, Tyler McGarr and Alex Heil, Mason Garrison, Cody Lamb, Doug Bates and Jakari Robinson.
The 2018 recruiting class featured three players who are being groomed as offensive linemen. Colin Woodside and Jeremy Cooper were both three-star prospects. Cooper is a 6’3”, 295-pound offensive guard from Illinois. Woodside is from Lancaster, Ohio and at 6’5” and 265 pounds is built to play tackle. Lorenz Metz is the third part of this trio and perhaps the most intriguing. Previously a defensive end, the 6’9” German native is currently listed as an offensive line. We’ll have to see if that sticks.