Oregon State football: Offensive line will be among nation's best
In football, the story of the game often comes down to what happens on the offensive line.
In the battle in the trenches, expect the Beavers to win a lot of wars in 2022.
The Beavers boasted one of the nation's top blocking units last season, winding up as a finalist for the Joe Moore Award for the best offensive line in the country. According to Football Outsiders, OSU ranked first in FBS in three different run-blocking stats — average line yards, standard down line yards and power success rate. Put simply, Oregon State got a big push up front on nearly every play, and when it came time to convert in short-yardage situations, the Beavers almost always came through.
If those advanced stats aren't convincing, consider that this offensive line opened up the holes that allowed BJ Baylor to rush for 1,337 yards last season — tops in the Pac-12.
This year, things will look a bit different with all-leaguers Nathan Eldridge and Nous Keobounnam gone from their center and guard spots, respectively. There is still plenty of talent in the room, though, and OSU offensive line coach Joe Michalczik has proven one of the best in America at squeezing the most out of that talent.
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One of the big changes coming this year will be Brandon Kipper moving from right tackle to right guard. Kipper was a top-10 lineman in the Pac-12 last year, per Pro Football Focus, and now he slides over into Keoubounnam's old spot. The 6-foot-6, 327-pound senior is the most veteran presence on the line, but he will have some adjustments to make in his first season on the interior.
As for the other starting tackle from last season, Joshua Gray will be anchoring the left side of the line once again for the Beavers. Gray ranked 13th in the conference, per PFF, as an offensive lineman last year as a redshirt freshman. He could be in for a big jump in development with another year under the tutelage of Michalczik — a dangerous prospect for opposing edge rushers.
Both Kipper and Gray were named to the preseason All-Pac-12 second team, and they were not the only ones garnering early attention.
Jake Levengood was named to the preseason watchlist for the Rimington Trophy, given annually to the nation's best center. He will be replacing Eldridge — no small task — but Levengood should have success after ranking as one of the top 15 linemen in the Pac-12 last season. The 6-foot-4 redshirt junior is a versatile lineman, able to play any spot along the line, but expect him to hold down the fort at center.
Stepping into the void at left guard will be Marco Brewer, who did the same a year ago when Levengood went down to injury after eight games. He started the final five games of the season for OSU, earning a league-leading 93.3 run blocking grade from PFF. Brewer also received preseason accolades, being named to the Outland Trophy watchlist.
Rounding out the unit will be Taliese Fuaga, a true sophomore who stands 6-foot-6 and will man the right tackle position. A former three-star recruit out of Tacoma, Washington, the 331-pound Fuaga could be a force, though he is the most unproven quantity on the O-line.
The Beavers should have good depth on the line, too, to keep guys fresh during games and to patch holes as injuries crop up.
Tanner Miller played in 12 games last season, and the redshirt sophomore should be able to fill in anywhere on the interior. So, too, will top recruit Dylan Lopez. Lopez was rated by ESPN as the No. 3 center in the Class of 2022, and he could earn some snaps throughout the year. Joe Quillin, a Jesuit High School graduate, is also among the interior depth.
At tackle, 6-foot-5 Tommy Spencer slides over from his original position of tight end, where he was once a three-star recruit, and Brian Espinoza, a 6-foot-4 redshirt sophomore out of Clackamas High School, could see action for the first time in Corvallis.
This group, with its mix of returning high-level talent and a talented crop of players waiting to make their first impact, may lose a half-step in the early going as players adjust to new positions and expectations. With Michalczik guiding them, though, expect the Beaver linemen to jell together by year's end and repeat as one of the nation's best blocking units.
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