DENTON, Texas (3/31/09) Today MeanGreenSports.com starts a position-by-position breakdown of the North Texas football team in the spring and where it’s headed in the fall. Along the way we welcome your questions about each position and we answer them the following day. Up first today is the big uglies as we preview the Mean Green’s offensive line. Click Here To Submit Questions
For the first time in some time, North Texas will return experience and depth on the offensive line. Not only are all five starters back from last year, the Mean Green also returns Kelvin Drake who was a second team all-conference performer in 2007 before missing the entire 2008 season with an injury.
In the entire group that offensive line coach Spencer Leftwich has to work with, there are eight players who have started multiple games during their careers. At the end of the 2008 season, Leftwich had settled on starters Esteban Santiago and Victor Gill at tackle, Gabe Hollivay and Coleman Feeley at guard and J.J. Johnson at center.
Santiago, Hollivay, Johnson and Gill started all 12 games for the Mean Green in 2008 while Feeley came on to start the final seven games. Santiago is the only full-time starter from 2008 that also started in 2007.
With the return of so much experience and depth up front, the North Texas offense will continue to try to improve on the gaudy numbers it has put up the last two years under head coach Todd Dodge. The Mean Green offensive line only allowed one quarterback sack per every 21.4 pass attempts last season which is up from one sack per every 14.2 attempts the previous year.
Only Troy in the Sun Belt Conference had a better ratio of sacks allowed last year. Also to its credit, the 2008 offensive line helped produce the most efficient running attack since 2004 by rushing for over 1,500 yards and averaging 4.1 yards per carry.
As a two-year starter with two years of eligibility remaining, Santiago has established himself as one of the best young tackles in the Sun Belt Conference and will be expected to be a leader of the unit as the only lineman with over 20 starts to his credit.
Gill transitioned from tight end to tackle nicely and has bulked up from 240 pounds when he arrived on campus to over 270 pounds now. They have spent nearly all of the time with the first team during spring practice and are expected to be the top two tackles heading into the fall.
Junior Matt Menard also has extensive experience after starting 11 games at tackle in 2007 and playing as a backup in 2008. Drake spent his first two seasons playing center, including his sophomore season when he earned all-league recognition. With the emergence of Johnson last season, Drake has spent a lot of time during the spring working at guard, but could move back to his old position if need be.
Senior Tyler Bailey is a versatile player who has played both guard and center during his time with the Mean Green but has missed spring practice while recovering from an injury. Bailey will add experienced depth wherever needed up front.
Matt Tomlinson is a big body who will add depth at tackle and Nate Jenkins spent the 2008 season learning the offense and is now ready to fill in as a backup at guard.