Offensive line depth a sign of program development

By Chris Williams, PublisherFollow Chris on Twitter @ChrisMWilliams

One of the best ways to judge a college football program’s development is by looking at its depth.

Iowa State had plenty of it on its offensive line during its 6-6 regular season that concluded last weekend in Manhattan, Kan.

The Cyclone offensive line got off to a slow start with lingering injuries during camp and that bad luck continued during the season. Every member of that starting unit experienced at least a minor injury at some point during the year.

When right tackle Brayden Burris went down with a broken in leg in a loss to Texas on Oct. 1, Carter Bykowski and Kyle Lichtenberg stepped in admirably.

When Ethan Tuftee dropped out of the Texas Tech win thanks to a knee injury, freshman Jacob Gannon didn’t flinch.

As it turns out, those injuries were a blessing in disguise. Sure, in the short term, having players like Burris and Tuftee available would have been the best-case scenario. But because of the setbacks, Iowa State will be in a much better position in 2012 when the program has to replace left tackle Kelechi Osemele and right guard Hayworth Hicks.

“Invaluable how much farther we will be ahead going into spring ball than we could have been with a healthy front five," said Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads. "The past two years, we couldn’t have survived that. We just didn’t have the talent. We didn’t have the depth."

Osemele, a senior who is projected to be selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, has seen his young teammates come a long ways with the extra experience that they got due to the injuries.

"Now that they’ve been in there and had their playing time and have done well on the playing field, you’ll see a lot of confidence in those guys," said Osemele. "They know that they can do it. They’ve been out there and played against teams in the Big 12 and done well, surprisingly to themselves. The confidence will be there.”

Osemele has especially noticed a difference in Gannon, a 6-foot-6, 294-pound freshman.

“He was a guy who was a little shocked and surprised that he had to get thrown in there. He is a cerebral player. He is a tough guy who really wants to do well. He puts more pressure on himself than he needs to," said Osemele. "Since he’s seen that playing time, he’s calmed down and been a really good team player. He’s realized his capabilities. You’re recruited for a reason. It’s nice to see the light come on and a guy see what he is capable of."

Need more proof as to have far this unit has grown over the last three years? At one point during the second half of Iowa State’s shocking upset over Oklahoma State on Nov. 18, Osemele was the only Cyclone lineman in the game that started the season on Sept. 3 vs. Northern Iowa.

"Losing two key seniors seems a lot less damaging at this point with the snaps that those guys have been able to gain." said Rhoads.