STILLWATER — Oklahoma State offensive line coach Joe Wickline often plays “Musical Chairs” with his players, but he's never has been one to tap-dance around issues.
When the Cowboys have been weak up front, Wickline has said so.
“There have been a few years here where we've had to recruit awfully hard to get the top five,” said Wickline, now in his seventh season at OSU. “I'm recruiting the guys from our defense. I'm recruiting guys from special teams. I'm doing whatever I need to do to get five guys on the field. I moved guys right. I moved guys left. I used to move everybody around. But at the end of the day, the only change I've got is to cover up five of their guys for as long as possible. Who it is, what side he plays, it doesn't matter.”
This year's line shows tremendous promise, and Wickline has said so.
“I think you always look to find eight guys – a third tackle, a third guard and a second center,” Wickline said. "That may not be determined until the end of fall camp, but I do know this, I think we have a lot of quality players on both levels, and that brings your competition.”
This fall is a far cry from the previous fall, when the Cowboys had to replace unanimous first-team All-American left tackle Russell Okung, the No. 6 overall selection in the NFL Draft, and three other starting offensive linemen.
“At this time last year, it was like, ‘Can you get five together?'” Wickline said. “We lost some pretty big guys, but even then I thought, ‘We've got some good guys. They haven't played a lot, but they're good guys. It means a lot to them, they're athletic, they want to be good players.'”
Though OSU was gifted at the skilled positions in 2010, expectations were tempered because of an inexperienced offensive line. What transpired was astounding as the Cowboys finished No. 2 nationally in passing offense (345.85 yards), No. 3 in total offense (520.23 yards) and scoring (44.23 points) and No. 7 in sacks allowed (.77).
Former offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen and fellow assistants played a wonderful game of mix-and-match with the talent they had last year and wound up setting a school record for victories in a season (11-2).
“I won't mind saying, the scheme was a big part of our success,” Wickline said. “Our defense got a lot of turnovers. I think it was a nucleus of a lot of things, but what they (the offensive linemen) did was good.”
With Holgorsen now head coach at West Virginia, the Cowboys' offense belongs to new coordinator Todd Monken, who previously served as OSU's pass game coordinator and wide receivers coach from 2002-04.
All five starters on the offensive line return from last season, but that doesn't necessarily mean the same five will start this season.
Last year's starting lineup consisted of left tackle Nick Martinez, left guard Jonathan Rush, center Grant Garner, right guard Lane Taylor and right tackle Levy Adcock for every game except the Alamo Bowl, when Martinez and Adcock flipped positions.
Junior college transfer Michael Bowie has bumped Martinez from the starting left tackle spot this fall, and will be joined by seniors Rush, Garner and Adcock and Taylor, a junior. The backup pecking order appears to be Martinez, a senior, redshirt freshman Daniel Koenig, sophomore Parker Graham, sophomore Brandon Webb and redshirt freshman Gerron Anthony.
Monken is well-aware what he inherited with this year's offensive line.
“They're guys who have played a lot of football, so they're very confident.” Monken said. “They're fun to be around. They're relaxed, but when the lights come on and practice starts, they're all business. They work hard at it, they're competitive and they're prideful guys.”
Despite having 76 career starts returning to his line, Wickline said the group remains a work in progress.
“We've got a long way to go,” Wickline said. “There are some guys on the second-team line who aren't satisfied, and that's a good thing. There are no (free) passes. There's a best player, whether it's a guy from last year, or a new guy, or a guy from the past couple years. We're going to look for the best five, whether we're going to have to switch left or right – guard, tackle or center – we're going to find the best five guys.
“Probably the luxury is you might have guys play two years in a row … and they kind of feel really comfortable with the people they play next to – the calls, the communications, the chemistry – so new fronts (and) some new things don't really rattle them, and that's huge.”
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Strength in Numbers Competition along the offensive line gives Joe Wickline the most versatility he's had at OSU. The Cowboys two-deep: Pos. First Team Second Team LTMichael Bowie, 6-4, 310, Jr.Parker Graham, 6-7, 291, So. LGJonathan Rush, 6-4, 305, SrBrandon Webb, 6-3, 315, So. CGrant Garner, 6-3, 292, SrCasey LaBrue, 6-3, 280, Sr. RGLane Taylor, 6-3, 310, JrNick Martinez, 6-4, 310, Sr. RTLevy Adcock, 6-6, 322, SrDaniel Koenig, 6-6, 290, Fr.