2010 Offensive Line – Returning Players / Recruits

The Colorado offensive line – the great enigma from the 2009 season.

The problems in 2007 were forgivable. After all, the offensive line depth was so depleted that the spring game was a spring scrimmage due to a lack of healthy linemen.

The problems in 2008 were readily explained. The Buffs had been infused with a multitude of talented linemen with two strong recruiting classes, mammoth young men with limitless potential. But these players were, alas, still young, and their mistakes led to frustration. Patience was the watchword of the day.

Then came fall practice, 2009. Frustration was replaced by exuberance. Two 1,000-yard rushers were not out of the question. “Running downhill” was the phrase of the month. The Colorado offensive line was so well stocked that talented players – with game experience! – were two deep at each position.

Then the 2009 season began …

Colorado, ranked 88th in the nation in rushing offense in 2008, fell to 113th in 2009. Rushing yards per game fell from 124 to 88. The “sacks allowed” statistic, the worst team stat in 2008, had the Buffs in at 113th in the nation. In 2009, though, the Buffs were even worse, allowing a whopping 3.67 sacks/game, with only three teams – Tulsa, Washington State, and Miami (Ohio) worse at protecting its quarterback.

Okay, you know the numbers. You lived through them the past four months.

So – What happened?

Too many good players; not enough great ones. The starting lineup was a mystery week to week – let’s call it “Denver Johnson’s Musical Chairs”.

Junior Nate Solder started every game at left tackle. After that, you need a program.

Sophomore Ryan Miller also started each game, but was continuously shifted around. Ready for a run down? … Miller started the first two games of 2009 at right guard; the next game at right tackle; then two more games at right guard; then four games at right tackle; followed by the final three games at right guard. Now, I may not be a genius when it comes to player development, but in my world, starting Miller seven times at guard and five times at tackle does not make him a great player, it makes him “a jack of all trades; master of none”. Miller needs to given a permanent home, and allowed to develop his talents focused on one position.

Another player who failed to lineup in the same position for each game was sophomore Blake Behrens. Behrens had two starts at right guard, but also two starts at left guard. Then there was the odd case of center Mike Iltis. If you recall last spring and into fall practice, Mike Iltis was the man stepped up as the clear choice to replace the only lost starter from 2008, center Daniel Sanders. Iltis, a sophomore, beat out former walk-on Keenan Stevens, but was injured six plays into the first offensive drive of the 2009 season. Stevens took over the starting role even after Iltis returned from injury, starting the final nine games at center (Iltis would go on to play in only one game in the middle of the season, but returned to play in the last three games at guard, earning a start in the finale against Nebraska).

There’s more, but you get the idea.

So, what will the starting lineup look like in 2010?

There were no seniors amongst the offensive line in 2009, so everyone will be back. The starting five against Nebraska were as follows:

LT- junior Nate Solder;

LG – sophomore Mike Iltis;

C – junior Keenan Stevens;

RG – sophomore Ryan Miller; and

RT – red-shirt freshman Bryce Givens.

Whether by design or chance, these five players were in for every offensive down against the Cornhuskers – the only game all season in which the starting five played every down.

Move everyone up a year in eligibility, and you’ll have two seniors, two juniors, and a sophomore along the line in 2010.

This is not to say, however, that these five will be the starters against Colorado State on September 4th. For one thing, junior-to-be Ethan Adkins was entrenched at left guard, starting the first nine games of 2009 before being injured. Another player who saw significant playing time in 2009 was junior-to-be Matt Bahr. In the starting lineup at right guard for three games, Bahr saw action in six games altogether last fall.

And then there is MTM …

Max Tuioti-Mariner was a starter by the second game of his freshman season, 2008. After starting against Eastern Washington and West Virginia, though, MTM tore his ACL in a non-contact drill in practice. He was granted a medical red-shirt season, and 2009 was to be his second try at being a freshman. MTM was injured again, though, on March 3, 2009, tearing ligaments his left knee. It was thought that MTM was going to go on a Mormon mission, then possibly transfer, but Tuioti-Mariner decided to stay with his teammates. His injuries healed sufficiently that there was talk in late September about him playing in 2009, but ultimately he was held out for the year. If he can stay healthy, MTM could still be a four year starter for Colorado.

There are also other players already on campus who would like to make contributions to the improvement of the offensive line. Freshmen who sat out 2009 include Jack Harris, a highly rated offensive tackle prospect from Parker, Colorado; Gus Handler, from Barrington, Illinois, who may compete for the job at center, and David Bakhtiari, from Burlingame, California, who is still learning the offensive tackle position after playing it for only one year in high school.

And there is the case of Sione Tau, a 6’5″, 230 pound brute from Honolulu. Buff Nation recruitniks will recall that Tau was ranked as the 33rd-best offensive tackle prospect in the nation in 2007. Tau sat out 2007 as a true freshman, and was in line to compete for a starting position in 2008 before he was declared academically ineligible. This past fall, Tau was listed as “excused” on the Colorado roster, having been ruled out for his sophomore season due to violation of undisclosed team rules. Tau is expected, though, to rejoin the team in January, and would play in 2010 as a junior. (UPDATE: The Boulder Daily Camera published a story January 4th on Tau, indicating that Tau was reinstated on December 18th, and that the junior-to-be has enrolled in spring classes. During his suspension, Tau did not take any classes, and will have some catching up to do this spring and summer if he hopes to become academically eligible. “I think I kind of handled (his suspension) pretty well,” said Tau, “because  I stayed up and kept fighting, and now I’m back.”)

Not exactly a quiet bunch, are they?

A starting lineup which includes Nate Solder, Ryan Miller, Max Tuioti-Mariner, Ethan Adkins and Keenan Stevens – if they can all stay healthy – might just make everyone forget the trials and travails of the past few seasons.

Still, as history has shown, a school cannot go even one recruiting cycle without an infusion of new offensive linemen. With that in mind, Colorado has been recruiting its offensive linemen of the future …

What’s out there in the 2010 recruiting class?

The recruiting services are listing two known offensive line commitments for Colorado, one of which is already signed, sealed, and on campus. He is junior college transfer Eric Richter, who played last season for Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, California. Richter is 6’4″, 315 pounds, is considered a three-star prospect, and will have three years to play two in Boulder. “The coaches were all real happy and excited that I committed,” Richter told JCFootball.com after his visit in mid-December. “They said they haven’t had a physical lineman like me in their lineup the past few years, and they liked how violent my hands were and how I moved.” Richter started every game last fall at right guard, but played both guard positions and backed up at center his freshman year. “I fell I could play almost anywhere on the inside they needed me to,” said Richter, who had interest from other 1-A schools including Auburn, Tennessee, and San Diego State.

The other known offensive line commitment came back in September from offensive guard prospect Daniel Munyer, from Sherman Oaks, California. Munyer, who is 6’3″, 265 pounds, is also considered a three-star performer, and is rated as the 63rd-best guard in the nation by Scout.com. Munyer only took one official visit, committing to the Buffs after being on campus the weekend of the Kansas game. Munyer, who is slated as either a guard or center, is excited about becoming a Buff. “I’m pretty agressive,” Munyer told BuffStampede.com. “What I like to do is set the tone on the first play of the game. I like to drive my guy off the ball and pancake him. I have a lot of lower body strength.” Munyer was being courted by a number of Mountain West teams, including Colorado State, UNLV, and New Mexico, as well as Nevada from the Big West Conference.

Are there any other offensive linemen who may commit on February 3rd?

One highly rated lineman who is seriously considering Colorado is Kaiwi Crabb from Honolulu. Crabb is considered a three-star player, the 39th-best offensive tackle prospect in the eyes of Rivals.com. Crabb took his official visit to Boulder on November 6th, and participated in a summer camps put on by the Buffs the past two summers. “They’ve shown the most interest in me,” said Crabb of CU after his visit. “They are my number one school”. Still, Crabb has not ruled out visits to Washington or Oregon. “I really like the (Colorado) coaching staff, Crabb told Scout.com. “They are really warm and welcoming, like my coaches at home.”

(UPDATE: On Sunday, January 3rd, Crabb became the 13th known commitment, and the third offensive lineman, of the 2010 recruiting class).

With no seniors leaving the offensive line, recruiting will be lighter this year than in year’s past. There will be no Ryan Miller to tout, no Bryce Givens, no Jack Harris.

No, the talent which has been stockpiled over the past three recruiting classes is already in the pipeline.

All the Buffs need to do  now is find the best five – and start running downhill …

3 Replies to “’10 First Look – Offensive Line”

  1. Any idea whatever happened with Shaun Simon(center out of Tulsa) who signed a LOI with CU last year and for whatever reasons(grades, etc.) he could not enroll. Do you know if he went the JC route or did some other school with less stringent requirements end up signing him?

    1. Chuck,
      You are correct. Simon did not qualify, and enrolled in Hutchinson Community College. He took some online courses to qualify, but the NCAA said he had to actually take the classes.

      Simon was quoted last summer as saying that, even though he had the opportunity to go through the recruiting process again, he was still a Buff. “I am fully committed to Colorado,” Simon said. “I heard it is kind of hard for them to get junior college players in, but I am going to do my best to get into Colorado.”

      Simon would be eligible to enroll as early as January, 2011, and have three years to play two, starting in 2011, if he qualifies.

      Good question!

  2. After watching the Alamo Bowl last night, I’m wondering if there is any chance we could pick up Mike Leach in ANY CAPACITY. Maybe one of the guys who Hawkins refers to as his “kids”(God, I hate that reference!) could volunteer to be locked in the equipment shed for the season. Hey, look at the study time one of the “student athletes” could get in. Or maybe they rotate the duty around.
    Somebody needs to tell Hawkins that illegal procedure is the same at the fifth grade level with real “kids” as it is in big time football, and the “kids” don’t need extra training on the rules after most have been playing for ten years by the time they arrive at CU.
    Am I frustrated? How did you guess?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *