Heading into the spring, there was no doubt whatsoever what the cornerstone of the offensive line would be.
The three seniors. The Big 3. The Hogs. Whatever one wants to call them. Left tackle Tanner Hawkinson, left guard Duane Zlatnik and center Trevor Marrongelli form the core of what Kansas fans hope will be a revitalized and solidified unit in the trenches.
And, honestly, it’s really a pretty solid jumping off point. All three are now 300-plus pounds, have multiple years as starters under their belts and have plenty of talent. Hawkinson and Zlatnik, in fact, are on the radars of NFL scouts as the season prepares to kick off. Furthermore, all three played a part in luring Dayne Crist to Kansas, as the transfer quarterback and team captain met with them during his official visit.
The right side of the line, however, was more of a murky situation. Four contenders emerged for the two spots at right guard and right tackle - Randall Dent and Aslam Sterling at guard, and Gavin Howard and Riley Spencer at Tackle.
Tuesday it was revealed Sterling and Howard had won the starting jobs, but Head Coach Charlie Weis expects all four to play.
With the line solidfied, on paper it looks impressive. Only Marrongelli is shorter than 6-foot-4, and everyone tilts the scales at 300-plus. Sterling’s potential as a road-grader is massive, given his 6-foot-5, 340-pound frame and unusually quick feet, and Howard drew praise from Weis this week for his performance during fall camp.
But what about the backups? Dent and Spencer will see time at guard and tackle, but how does the two-deep look the rest of the way? If one of the seniors goes down, does the line crumble?
It seems unlikely. No, none of the listed backups are experienced, nor are they as big as their roster mates. Pat Lewandowski (LT) was shifted to the offensive line during fall camp, and to his credit earned the backup spot. The staff seems to believe he has a bright future at the position. Damon Martin (LG), a redshirt freshman, was an impressive prospect out of high school, and Dylan Admire (C) has been called by offensive line coach Tim Grunhard maybe the most intelligent lineman on the team - an invaluable trait in a center.
The one player the line can probably least afford to lose is Hawkinson. He’s talented, he’s experienced and he protects Crist’s blindside. If he goes down, for any reason, suddenly the one facing that challenge is a sophomore who hasn’t played a down of collegiate football on offense.
It’s going to take some luck. Injuries do happen, after all. But should the ball roll favorably for Weis and Co., the offensive line could prove to be a real strength of this team.