The task of replacing three veteran starters on the offensive line didn't sneak up on Matt Campbell -- so he planned accordingly.
That plan, which called for reserves to see significant playing time last season, is making Campbell's life easier this spring as he fashions a unit with more uncertainty than perhaps any other on the team. Jeff Myers, A.J. Lindeman, and Josh Hendershot have started zero games in their college careers, which might be less unsettling than it seems. Campbell, the first-year head coach and the line coach the last three seasons, made an effort to get them game experience in 2011, knowing they'd likely be thrust into starting roles this season.
"I think that was crucial," Myers said.
Left guard Myers and right tackle Lindeman logged more than 300 snaps, and left tackle Hendershot played about 200. Offensive line is not generally a position group high on rotating players because chemistry among the starters is paramount to the offense's success as a whole. While concerned with scoring points, Campbell also kept an eye on the future, using reserves in a variety of ways, be it through speciality packages, to give a breather to a starter, or at the end of lopsided wins. Campbell estimated some of the backups logged 10-20 plays each week, which might not seem like a bunch, but over the course of a 13-game season they add up.
"We knew we had three seniors, and I thought it was really important to get a lot of guys reps in critical situations and see how they do," Campbell said. "That's the only way to get better."
Gone from last year's line are left tackle Mike VanDerMeulen and John Morookian, who combined for 98 starts, and left guard Phillip Manley, who started all 26 games over his junior and senior seasons. That's 124 starts between them. Their replacements -- so far it looks like it will be Hendershot, Lindeman and Myers -- will slide in alongside two returning starters, center Zac Kerin and right guard Greg Mancz.
"I feel like last year helped me a lot for getting the feel of game situations and the feel of playing against different defensive ends instead of playing our guys all the time," Lindeman said.
When UT plays at Arizona on Sept. 1, it will be the first game since 2007 that someone besides VanDerMeulen starts at left tackle. Hendershot, a junior-to-be with six games under his belt, embraces the challenge.
"I'm going to enjoy having people watch me and having some pressure on me because I feel that's going to push me to play harder," he said.
Only Lindeman is entering his senior year. Hendershot and Kerin are juniors, while Mancz and Myers are sophomores. Knowing he'll only have to replace one starter next year, will Campbell insert reserves as frequently as last year?
"It really comes down to the development of the guys who are sixth, seventh, and eighth in the spring."
Battling for playing time are, among others, Rob Lisowski, Chase Nelson, Ethan Wirth, Erik Carlson, and Colin Perchinske.
QUARTERBACKS: Campbell's ready to clear up the quarterback battle. Both will play.
Although he probably won't declare Terrance Owens or Austin Dantin the starter until the fall, Campbell has seen enough positives out of them to suggest both will have opportunities to run the offense.
"Both of those guys have continued to have the right to play," Campbell said. "The final evaluation of who the starter will be -- as long as they continue to compete the way they have -- will be made during fall camp."
Owens, who started the final three games last season, continues to get the majority of snaps with the first-team offense.
OOPS: On Thursday The Blade printed the names of five honorary coaches for the April 13 spring game and omitted a sixth -- Nick Kaczur. Kaczur will be joined by fellow former Rocket greats Andrew Hawkins, Barry Church, Michael Schaefer, Gene Swick, and Christian Hopkins.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.