October 3, 2008

Unsung Heroes: O-Line secret to success

The most important players on Oklahoma State's stellar offense aren't Zac Robinson, Kendall Hunter, Keith Toston or Dez Bryant.

How about those big guys up front? You know, the unknown soldiers in a Cowboy offense that goes into this weekend's game against Texas A&M fourth in total offense (562 yards per game), third in scoring offense (51 points a game) and first in rushing offense (340 ypg). Not bad stats. And while OSU does indeed have some amazing skill players, without the big uglies up front, the offense wouldn't function.

Even so, those guys never seem to get their due.

"Oh I know, they never get any credit," Robinson said. "You guys need to talk about them instead of Dez," the junior quarterback laughed.

So why not take a minute to get familiar with guys such as Russell Okung, Andrew Lewis, David Washington, Steve Denning and Brady Bond? Even though the fans and media don't really pay that much attention to them, Robinson said the group is an integral part of the high-flying system, which seemingly hasn't missed a beat after losing former offensive coordinator Larry Fedora to Southern Mississippi.

"They're all playing real well," Robinson said. "They've gelled as a group and Dave kind of heads that group up, always knowing who to block and pointing out who other people need to block, so they're playing real well right now. I don't even know if I got touched on a pass play (against Troy), so they're playing really well."

The centerpiece of the unit, Washington, wants to do even more.

"I think we're sitting pretty good right now, we've just got to get better," Washington said. "There's always room for improvement. That's our motto as the offensive line. We just try to strive for excellence and keep going and grinding."

Head coach Mike Gundy agrees on the room for improvement bit. He said he graded the unit out as "good" for the Troy game, but not "great" and that they can still do better in several areas. Even so, he realizes the strength this unit is for the Pokes.

"I think our linemen take pride in being in good physical condition and they can just keep going," Gundy said. "That's worked well for us up to this point. They're in good shape. I've said this several times, Rob Glass is tremendous with them in the weight room and in their strength and conditioning and cardiovascular system. And that's an advantage for them. I think they can get on guys and stay on them at times when the other team might be fatigued."

It's often hard for the common fan to really see or understand what's going on in the trenches. After all, most everyone focuses on who has the ball. It's easy to forget about them opening up a wide hole for Hunter or Toston to run through, or giving Robinson enough time to throw a touchdown pass to Bryant. But those high national numbers, those yards and points - the foundation comes from the O-line.

"Definitely, I mean it's hard for the average fan to see that," Robinson said. "They just watch the ball and maybe every now and then see a pancake block or something like that. But I can assure you that they're playing really well and they're a big part of why we're moving the ball so well on offense."

Other members of the offense agree. In fact, wide receiver DeMarcus Conner makes no bones about just how vital the line is to the team overall.

"They're the most important part and they're the hardest-working group on the football team," Conner said. "They do meetings early as a group, they're on the football field before everybody, they do a lot of walk-throughs, they do a lot of teaching. So as a group, they are the best, hardest-working group on the team. They don't give up too many sacks, that's the good thing. They block with effort and energy so they're just a great part of the team. They give everybody else energy too."

He adds that their motivation and enthusiasm are contagious.

"They work hard," he said. "The way they work on the football field is amazing. If they work hard, then everybody else follows through. Receivers start working hard, running backs start working hard, quarterbacks start working hard."

So next time you see Hunter break off a 70-yard run or Robinson connect on a long bomb to Bryant, remember to think about those big boys up front who made it all possible. The secret to OSU's offense isn't any of them, but who play up front.

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