Every starting Kansas University offensive lineman who looks either to his immediate left or right from his position on the field will see an O-line face that was unfamiliar to him as recently as last winter.
Right tackle Zach Fondal, a 6-foot-5, 295 pound junior from Houston by way of Navarro College, looks left and sees Mike Smithburg, a 6-3, 300-pound junior from Fairfield, Iowa, by way of Iowa Western Community College, who looks left and sees 6-5, 295-pound junior Pat Lewandowski from Blue Valley West High. Moving on down the line, Ngalu Fusimalohi, 6-2, 310 from Daly City, Calif., and San Francisco City College, sees Aslam Sterling, 6-5, 315, from Springfield Garden, N.Y., and Nassau Community College on his left.
Five men from five different states weighing an average of 303 pounds.
Continuity, which leads to chemistry, is of paramount importance for an offensive line, or so say those who coach teams that keep their lines together for long stretches.
In that regard, the KU O-line works at a disadvantage early in the season. A microwave doesn’t develop chemistry. Only time does in slow-bake fashion.
Senior guard Randall Dent, a starter in the final 10 games of last season, begins the season on the second team, a strong sign that coach Charlie Weis is pleased with the development of Fusimalohi and Smithburg. Brian Beckmann, a 6-6, 300-pound red-shirt freshman from Blue Valley West High, was so impressive in fall camp he moved to the top among reserve tackles.
The makeup of the line is not without serious questions. For one, Sterling has to perform better as a pass-blocker than he did against Ben Goodman and Michael Reynolds in the intrasquad scrimmage a few weeks ago. Lewandowski must make a smooth transition to center. And then there is the issue of three juco-transfer starters in their first year of Div. I football.
On the encouraging side, coaches and players consistently use the word “physical” to describe the identity of this line. Isn’t that just a code word for nasty?
“Yeah,” featured running back James Sims said. “I would say, yeah. They’re nasty up front, definitely.”
Left tackle Tanner Hawkinson started all of his 48 games at KU. He, Duane Zlatnik and Trevor Marrongelli combined to make 110 starts at KU and must be replaced.
“A lot of people try to compare the offensive line from last year to this year,” Sims said. “I mean, in my eyes, it’s like the same, if not this year’s is more physical than last year’s.”
Tony Pierson called the new, massive quarterback bodyguards and running back aids “good blockers, I don’t see a drop-off. Tanner’s gone, starting all four years and bringing leadership, but other than that, I don’t see a drop-off.”
Run-blocking and pass-blocking?
“Either/or,” Pierson said.
If those words prove accurate, credit the coaching staff with an impressive recruiting job done up front.