Time to give KU's much maligned O-Line some love


Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart looks to make a move against West Virginia safety Darwin Cook during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart looks to make a move against West Virginia safety Darwin Cook during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

They were torn apart when things were not going well, so now that the tables have turned a little bit, it's time to praise them.

We're talking about the Kansas University offensive line, of course, a group that, anchored by center Gavin Howard and buoyed by head coach Charlie Weis' willingness to keep tinkering until he found the right combination, has hit its stride during recent weeks and has allowed KU to return to an impressive identity of power football that, last week, led to the program's first Big 12 victory in three years.

There are plenty of people in the program who deserve credit for the line's resurgence. But the five guys who are out there playing most of the snaps and blowing open most of the holes deserve the most credit. So here's a quick, player-by-player breakdown of who they are and what makes them tick.

LEFT TACKLE — Riley Spencer —
6-foot-6, 305-pound senior from Hesston, Kan.

Spencer is one of those program players who has been in Lawrence for five years and suffered through repeated injuries while trying to find his place on the KU line. He missed 2009 to red-shirt and all but one game last season because of injury and played mostly as a back-up during the seasons in between.

Spencer also played basketball in high school, where he was an all-state selection on the offensive line. He earned Academic All-Big 12 first team honors in 2010 and is majoring in exercise science. He plans to be a firefighter after graduating from KU.

Spencer Links

Future fireman Spencer fights off defenders, injuries to make impact for KU:

Will Riley Spencer and Damon Martin make a difference for KU's offense?

LEFT GUARD — Ngalu Fusimalohi —
6-foot-2, 310-pound junior from Daly City, Calif.

Weis recently called Fusimalohi the most consistent KU offensive lineman this season, from start to finish. Thrust into a first-string role during his first season after transfering from City College of San Francisco, the man who resembles a road grader is physical and nasty at the point of attack and seems to have been born to run block.

Rated the 90th best junior college prospect in the country last season, Fusimalohi was a part of the 2011 NJCAA national champions and earned first team all-Nor Cal Conference honors last season.

He's majoring in history.

Fusimalohi Links

Juco offensive lineman picks Kansas:

CENTER — Gavin Howard —
6-foot-4, 300-pound senior from Owasso, Okla.

Howard is another one of those program guys who has been around Lawrence for a long time and played a lot of snaps, mostly in a back-up role. Thrust into the starting center spot after KU had exhausted all other options, Howard has done a fantastic job of settling the line down and helping provide an identity of physicality, toughness and intelligence.

A gifted athlete who starred in basketball and football in high school, Howard is one of the smartest players on the roster and has spent a lot of time tutoring his teammates during the academic portion of their lives as KU football players.

Howard recently landed a job with Conoco-Phillips and will get his post-football career started on Jan. 13, making the next 10 days his final days as a football player, which, he said Wednesday, inspired him to give all he's got to the finish.

Howard links

Center Gavin Howard completes cycle:

Kansas center Gavin Howard not approaching new position gingerly:

Howard helps KU reduce snap snafus:

RIGHT GUARD — Damon Martin —
6-foot-3, 300-pound sophomore from Arlington, Texas.

Widely regarded as one of the strongest players in the program, Martin, like Spencer, has helped bring back the physicality to KU's offensive line that has led to some strong rushing performances during recent weeks.

A third-year sophomore who red-shirted in 2011, Martin made such a rapid rise during 2012 that he wound up starting a game late in the season before falling off as quickly as he climbed up. Weis has said throughout his two years in town that consistency has been Martin's biggest issue and earlier this week Weis said he believed Martin had turned the corner.

A quiet guy during interviews, Martin is majoring in sociology.

Martin Links

August crucial for these five football players:

Will Riley Spencer and Damon Martin make a difference for KU's offense?:

Offensive lineman commits to Kansas:

RIGHT TACKLE — Aslam Sterling —
6-foot-5, 315-pound senior from Springfield Gardens, N.Y.

After being moved into the all-important left tackle spot following an offseason body makeover, Sterling struggled in his new role early and quickly was moved back to the right tackle spot he held down during his first season in Lawrence in 2012.

Big, strong, athletic and with his best days still ahead of him, Sterling provided a much needed dose of experience for KU's offensive line early in the season and, lately, has merely been able to return to a more anonymous role and focus on nothing more than getting the job done.

Arrived from Nassau Community College with a big frame and big expectations, Sterling has been solid during his time at Kansas and likely will get a shot at pro football next fall.

Majoring in liberal arts and sciences.

Sterling Links

KU offensive tackle Sterling a changed man:

Lineman Aslam Sterling has huge potential:

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


Andy Tweedy 4 years, 7 months ago

Matt, Who replaces the seniors next year? Is Admire someone who still gets a shot despite struggling pretty badly at times this year. Who are the tackles?

Matt Tait 4 years, 7 months ago

Good question. Because of the fact that so many guys got playing time this year, the team won't be without options. What's more, they'll have even more time to get better in the weight room and through spring ball and that should help, as well.

Joe Gibson is a name you should store away at Center. He's a walk-on at the moment, but Grunhard is very high on him and he has some physical tools.

If I had to bet now, I think the line entering spring drills would look like this:

LT - Pat Lewandowksi
LG - Ngalu Fusimalohi
C - Joe Gibson
RG - Damon Martin
RT - Zach Fondal

Don't forget Mike Smithburg is still in the mix along with Brian Beckmann, Joey Bloomfield, Dylan Admire and whatever recruits they might bring in.

Another thing to remember is that the coaching staff has shown it's not afraid to move guys from one position to the next and I wonder if Martin could be transformed into a tackle to allow Smithburg to jump back in at guard.

Lots of time and tinkering ahead before that matters, though, which is a very good thing for this program. The point here is this: They've got some bodies.

Tom Keegan 4 years, 7 months ago

I'm going to go with: LT — Brian Beckmann LG — Ngalu Fusimalohi C — Joe Gibson RG — Damon Martin RT — Joey Bloomfield

Chris Bailey 4 years, 7 months ago

Not knowing anything about Joe Gibson I can't speak on him but my money is on Keegan's picks for the starters. Joey and Brian are big kids and should be much improved after being in the system a while. I am surprised Smithburg fell off the depth charts for both of you but I'm all for whoever can improve our chances to win period.

Matt Tait 4 years, 7 months ago

Smithburg could be incredibly valuable next season even if he doesn't start... Nice to have that kind of depth and experience behind the front line guys. Of course, he still could be one of them, too.

I like Beckmann and Bloomfield a lot but I'd be surprised if BOTH of them start. One of them wouldn't shock me at all (likely Beckmann b/c of his experience) but BOTH would be a surprise.

Either way, those guys appear to have solid futures in the program...

Dirk Medema 4 years, 7 months ago

My $ is on the interior as mentioned + 2 JC OT recruits. CW knows he needs to make things happen up front, and I don't see him settling for underclassmen. It is easy for him to offer immediate PT again.

We also have the #2 OC coming in next year, tho it would be tough for a true F to start on the OL, and especially at OC. The next couple games could go a long ways toward filling the roster again.

Suzi Marshall 4 years, 7 months ago

The Kansas OL was by far the major reason for the results this season.They would have to improve 10 fold to be able to call them bad. At times they got some run blocking but never were able to do a bit of pass blocking. Heaps never had a chance with this OL. Weis will need to find some Juco OL players to compete next year. Not confronting a major problem will not make it go away.

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