ARLINGTON, Texas — Luke Joeckel calls himself a background guy.
And he likes it that way.
“I grew up an offensive lineman,” the Texas A&M left tackle said. “I'm used to staying in the background. I don't like being in the spotlight very much.”
He might want to start getting used to the glare.
Joeckel won the Outland Trophy this season as the nation's best interior lineman. He is also projected to be one of the top players in the upcoming NFL Draft. One mock draft even has him as the top overall pick for Kansas City, calling him a cornerstone pick for the Chiefs.
As a junior, Joeckel has yet to say if he will forego his senior season to enter the pros.
Oklahoma will have to figure out how to handle him and the Texas A&M offensive line Friday night in the Cotton Bowl.
“As a unit on their football team,” Sooner defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said, “their offensive line is probably their greatest strength.”
The Sooners have had their struggles up front this season, and with the suspension of defensive tackle Stacy McGee, they'll be shorthanded in the Cotton Bowl. They've moved defensive end David King into the middle, but regardless of personnel, they'll have their hands full against the Aggies.
Texas A&M doesn't just have great talent on the offensive line — right tackle Jake Matthews is also an All-American — but it also has great continuity. The five linemen have started every game together this season, something the Sooners recognize as a luxury.
“We've been lucky,” Joeckel admitted. “We haven't had any significant injuries on the offensive line all year. Not many offensive lines in the country can say that.”
Want to know why Johnny Manziel is able to do some of the things he does?
Start with these big fellas.
And the guy at the head of the line is Joeckel.
He comes from an offensive line family. His dad played the position at Texas Tech, and as long as Luke has played football, he's played offensive line.
At 6-foot-6, 310 pounds, he is extremely athletic and nimble. While he fit well in Texas A&M's offense the past two seasons, blocking for Ryan Tannehill, he has thrived even more in the run-and-gun, dual-threat style that Kevin Sumlin and Manziel ushered in. And he's done so against SEC defenses.
What Joeckel and Matthews have done has opened lots of Sooner eyes.
“Those two guys, they can keep people from closing in,” Stoops said. “They both do a great job of keeping people in front of them and making space around them.”
Sooner co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said, “You really have to understand — they have two great offensive tackles. With the defensive fronts in that league and the pressure they can put on you in the passing game, you've got to have a good offensive line to run that offense. They've got two NFL tackles. First-rounders.”