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Stoutland: O-Line depth has ways to go

Beyond backup quarterback, it hasn't been hard to see this spring what one of the major concerns is going to be on offense heading into next season. Tied for second on the very questionable list: Second team left tackle, second team left guard, second team center, second team right guard and second team right tackle.

Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland prepares his players for practice. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said Wednesday his mission this spring was to try and find guys for those spots and establish a rough draft of a working eight to nine man rotation he could put on the field Saturdays (like he's done in each of his previous two seasons at Miami). Consider the job partially done at best. What Stoutland has really been able to do after 13 spring practices is figure out junior Matt Pipho can really be his starting right tackle (he's shown enough consistency), and that his three talented newcomers -- Ben Jones, Brandon Washington and Jermaine Johnson -- are better off in different spots than he initially thought. The rest really remains unknown.

"Our first group is a lot further along than our second group," Stoutland said. "Our first group is really clicking right now. Second group is just a lot of young people."

Jones, who began the season backing up Matt Pipho at right tackle, has been moved to the left side. Johnson, who began on the left side, has been moved to backup right tackle (where he told Stoutland he feels more comfortable). And Washington, who began at right guard and has since been moved to left guard, can likely play anywhere if needed.

The good news is all three appear talented enough -- along with right guard Harland Gunn (who has taken advantage Joel Figueroa has been out with an injury this spring) -- where they could be serious contirbutors down the road. But it's obvious they have plenty of work to do this spring and summer if they hope to turn the corner and really earn a spot in the roation. “There’s still a lot of teaching going on,” Stoutland said of his second team. “But they’re going to be good players down the road.”

Jones, who played mostly right tackle in high school, has to "learn and kick from a new standpoint," Stoutland said. "But I’m happy with him. He’s a real good athlete. He didn’t play at all last year. He was injured twice. It was hard to develop him. But he’s really come a long way this spring. If he continues to improve like that, then we’ve added more depth."

As for Washington, Stoutland says, "When he gets in that weight room full time, you’ll see him change a little bit." Stoutland said there is still a lot to like about Washington, especially his smarts and maturity after playing a year in prep school. "You talk about a bright kid, he’s very, very intelligent. We can do a lot of things with him and you only have to coach him once. He’s not going to [make a mistake] next time. He could actually, like Orlando [Franklin] did, end up helping us this year. He can play tackle, center. He’s extremely bright. Right now we got him playing left guard. Before he’s done here, who knows where he’ll play."

Joel Figueroa missed the spring with an arm injury > While Gunn has played the entire spring with the first team at right guard, don't expect him to remain there when Joel Figueroa returns this fall. "I can’t wait to get back to coaching Fig again. I believe he’s going to be a force," Stoutland said. "I think the best thing to happen to Harland was Fig not playing. Now we’ve established some depth. But Fig is really going to have to drop in a bucket [for him not to start]. I have a lot of confidence in that guy. I think all of our players do. Still, our guards have always rotated. So, Harland Gunn is going to play."

> Wednesday's practice had too many amazing offensive plays to mention. In fact, the offense really has dominated a lot this spring. Left tackle Jason Fox summed it up the best Wednesday -- and certainly laid the foundation for some trash talking heading into Saturday's Spring Game at Lockhart Stadium.

"I think the defense has won maybe one practice so far this spring," Fox said. "I don’t know if you watched practice but I think we scored every other play. We’ll see what happens Saturday. But we plan on... I'm just going to stop right there."

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