Position Preview: For USC offensive line, 'It starts with us'
The Southeastern Conference has long been lauded as a defensive line league. It’s one of the biggest reasons – literally and figuratively – the conference has dominated the national landscape for the past 15 years.
It’s also a problem for people like South Carolina offensive line coach Eric Wolford, who has to solve it if his guys are going to have a fighting chance on Saturdays this fall.
“The best defensive linemen in the country play in the SEC,” Wolford said. “All the best offensive linemen in the country don’t come and play in the SEC.”
Last season, four SEC defensive linemen were drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. None of the league’s offensive linemen were. In half of the past four drafts, the No. 1 overall pick has been a defensive end from the SEC – South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney in 2014 and Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett this year.
That type of output draws publicity for the league, and that publicity draws recruits.
“Defensive linemen will come from anywhere (in the country) because the SEC is a farm team for the NFL at every position, but there are enough NFL offensive linemen who have played in the Big Ten and the Pac 12, some in the Big 12 that have had success that they will stay in those geographic regions,” Wolford said.
No one in the SEC knows that better than Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who previously served as the coach at Wisconsin.
“It’s something that I observed when I first came down here,” he said. “I really thought in the past at my previous stop, the hardest position to recruit, in my opinion, was the freaky defensive line guys. And those guys are just more prevalent in the South geographically.”
That was the good news for Bielema. The bad was that he looked around his new home recruiting territory and didn’t see the type of offensive linemen he was used to recruiting, he said.
“There’s a reason that we’re going to (recruit in) Detroit, there’s a reason I’m going to Chicago,” he said. “It is to target offensive linemen.”
Bielema’s center – senior Frank Ragnow – might be the best offensive lineman in the conference, and he’s a native of Victoria, Minn.
“I saw a stat this year: the highest paid right tackle, right guard and center are three guys I’ve coached,” Bielema said. “They’re the highest-paid at their position. And they’re all from the North.”