It’s a term you’re more likely to hear in your grandma’s sewing room than in a football locker room, but for the Texas offensive line, there’s no better description than patchwork.
Offensive line coach Joe Wickline’s group has been through the wringer this season. A combination of dismissals, suspensions, injuries and underperformance has forced the offensive line coach to use 10 different linemen through the team’s first nine games.
Pair the constant flux with the incredible inexperience along the Longhorns’ offensive front, and the result hasn’t been pretty.
“It’s definitely been an interesting process,” junior center Taylor Doyle said. “I don’t know if anyone saw it happening like this, but it’s been exactly that — a process.”
That process has been a difficult one, as the offensive line’s inability to open up holes in the run game and protect its quarterback has taken a lot of the blame for the offense’s inconsistency.
But, in being forced into a position they evidently weren’t prepared for, the ragtag bunch has developed at an incredible rate and is making obvious improvements on a weekly basis.
“We have guys, including myself, who have come a long way and had to step up,” said Doyle, who has become one of the leaders up front despite having only played in two games prior to this season. “But we still have a long way to go. Fortunately, we’re in a great position with Coach Wickline leading the way and teaching us as we go.”
Wickline is certainly deserving of a lot of the credit. Long revered as one of the top offensive line coaches in the country at Oklahoma State, he was handpicked by head coach Charlie Strong to join the new staff at Texas with the added title of offensive coordinator.
No coach inherited a more inexperienced group than Wickline, and that was before his two best players, senior center Dom Espinosa and tackle Kennedy Estelle, were lost for the season.
Despite the slew of personnel issues, compounded by the compensation lawsuit Oklahoma State brought against him, Wickline has found a way to make the most of a bad situation.
“I say it all the time, but we squeeze every ounce out of that offensive line,” Strong said. “It’s fun to watch that group because they just go out and compete.”
But, as much as Wickline may be responsible for the exponential improvement, it is the five guys on the field who are going out and performing each week.
In doing so, they’ve earned the respect of their teammates.
“It’s just a whole lot of stuff this offensive line went through, so it’s definitely great to see them succeeding,” senior running back Malcolm Brown said. “I’m proud of those guys for adjusting the way they did.”
Brown, of all people, should be most excited about the offensive line’s development. Last week, when the big guys in front of him turned in their best performance of the season, Brown did also, surpassing the 100-yard plateau for the first time all season and scoring a couple touchdowns.
“Coach [Wickline] put a lot of emphasis on drive the five — get our five guys on their five guys — and it was exciting to see us have a little success,” Doyle said.
As they’ve had a chance to develop chemistry on the field, the once misfits have grown closer off the field, too, and the coaching staff is taking notice.
“That group of guys [is] kind of finding a nucleus,” Strong said. “The offensive line is such a special bond, and they’re just playing as well as they can play.”
Like a well-made quilt in grandma’s sewing room, the Longhorn offensive line appears to be slowly going from a patchwork bunch to a tight-knit group.
It’s a process.