Opinion: Don’t count out KU's new-look offensive line yet

Offensive line coach Tim Grunhard works his players through drills during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012.

Offensive line coach Tim Grunhard works his players through drills during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Nothing beats an offensive line with a few fifth-year seniors loaded with game experience. Five years of body sculpting. All that time spent refining blocking technique. Such rich chemistry from so many practices spent together.

No wonder Kansas University running back James Sims always went out of his way to thank the men paving the way last season. Left tackle Tanner Hawkinson, left guard Duane Zlatnik and center Trevor Marrongelli formed a rare trio in terms of time spent together in the huddle as their games and frames steadily grew. They combined for 909 pounds and 110 starts.

Now they’re gone, but hope is not.

Second-year offensive line coach Tim Grunhard always has a story from his days at Notre Dame or the Kansas City Chiefs he can customize to what his blockers need to hear at any given moment.

“When I was a sophomore, we had a senior-laden line just like we did here last year and when all those guys left, guys like Andy Heck, me, Dean Brown and Mike Heldt had to step in and play,” Grunhard said.

The preseason magazines didn’t like Notre Dame’s chances because of the inexperienced offensive line.

“We went on and won a national championship with that line,” Grunhard said. “I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen here, but what I keep telling these guys is if they get together and they believe in each other and they overachieve and they work hard together they have a chance to do something special.”

Two physical junior college offensive line recruits are participating in spring football and one more reports in the summer, but it’s returning senior Aslam Sterling whose potential is the most intriguing. Listed as the starting right tackle on the depth chart, Sterling already has done something special in terms of reshaping his body. He reported to summer camp last season as a junior college transfer weighing 368 pounds. He recently weighed in at 312 and said he feels far more energetic.

Sterling was thrown into games last season carrying too many pounds and with limited knowledge of the playbook. He was unaccustomed to the speed and sophisticated techniques of opposing defenders.

“I think you’re going to be surprised how physical Aslam can be,” Grunhard said. “I think last year not being sure what was going on, he hesitated a little bit and struggled a little bit that way, but when Aslam knew what he was doing last year, he was pretty dominating. So we’re expecting him to know a lot more this year and be a lot more comfortable.”

Grunhard is high on Sterling’s ceiling.

“He’s got a pro body,” Grunhard said. “When you look at any offensive lineman on our field, you look at him and say that guy’s got a pro body. That’s what a prototypical right tackle looks like in the NFL.”

That’s not what Sterling was told at home in New York during Christmas break.

“My mom still calls me fat,” he said, smiling.

Maybe she meant phat.