The offensive line didn't start the season the way everyone expected. After spring football the players up front looked like it would be one of the strengths of the team.
Then it was announced that right tackle Jeff Spikes would miss the entire the season with an injury, Jeremiah Hatch wasn't at full strength, and Brad Thorson spent the first week of camp with a boot on his foot.
With the blink of an eye there were question marks surrounding over half of the projected starters on the line. That hasn't slowed down J.B. Grimes as he's preparing to get several players ready for game action.
"The good thing is we've got a couple experienced guys back," Grimes said. "Yeah we've had some bang ups through the course of the summer. We feel real good about the experience in that group. Then we have a couple of young guys that can come on and be really, really good players."
Tanner Hawkinson has a year of Big 12 play under his belt and just came in at number 14 in the Rivals.com national left tackle rankings. Sal Capra is a senior and was voted one of the team's captains.
More good news came about 10 days ago when Thorson returned to practice.
"Both Sal Capra and Brad Thorson are seniors and they are steady guys that can play multiple positions," Grimes said. "As a line coach to have those two guys that can play it affords you the opportunity to bring some young guys along. Tanner is what he is and that's a heck of an athlete. He's got to get stronger to be as good as he can be. He's a really smart guy. But he's got to get where he's a dominator. His athleticism speaks for itself."
Injuries are never a good thing but it has allowed several players to get a chance to show Grimes what they can do. He hopes to find a core group of linemen that he can count on as the season gets underway.
"What you'd really like to do is find eight," Grimes said. "That's exactly what we're doing right now. The good part about it is we're getting a tremendous amount of team reps. Our tempo is good and we're snapping the ball a lot of times. We pretty much know who we got, now we have to get those guys out in the right position."
More news and notes:
- Two players that have made a quick move into the line-up are Duane Zlatnik and Riley Spencer. Zlatnik is running as the first team left guard and Spencer is the back-up to Thorson at right tackle. Both were forced into action quicker than expected but have responded.
"I've said this before, but ideally you'd like to be able to put a lineman in the oven and bake him at about 250 degrees for six hours to get him done just right," Grimes said. "I thought when we first came into this camp we would be able to do that with a Duane and Riley. But we've had to turn the heat up there. We're up there at about 425 degrees right now trying to get them ready to play because of some of the things that happened over the course of the summer."
- Two walk-ons Alex Smith and Michael Martinovich have worked their way onto the second unit. Smith is from Basehor-Linwood High and Martinovich transferred from Air Force.
"We're getting a lot of good reps from Alex who is a young man that is a walk-on," Grimes said. "Then you have Martinovich and with those two guys in there we are able to function pretty well. That's a real plus when you get two, non-scholarship athletes in your program that help you function."
- Grimes likes his linemen to be versatile and play other positions if they are pressed into action. With the shuffling that has taken place several players have had that opportunity. It could pay off down the road.
"When you lose guys you always try to find the silver lining," Grimes said. "Right now the good part about it is we are having to cross-train. Guys are learning to play positions unless something happens down the road. At least if something happens down the road they've played that position. The downside is the five guys you'd like to be playing together for continuity."