In 2014, the Texas Longhorns offensive line was so bad at times that head coach Charlie Strong noted recently that even Louisville Cardinals star Teddy Bridgewater wouldn't have played well behind them.
"I don't care if you had Teddy Bridgewater standing back there last year, people wouldn't have thought he was very good either."
With a year under offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Wickline and four early enrollees providing more competitions, things are starting to change for the better.
In fact, according to senior offensive guard Sedrick Flowers -- the most experienced player along the line with 31 appearances and 14 starts -- Texas is not just improving steadily, the group is 10 times better now than in 2014. By the second game last season, the five starters featured five combined starts after losing senior center Dominic Espinosa to an ankle injury (40 starts) and junior offensive tackle Kennedy Estelle to eventual suspensions and dismissal (nine starts).
In a lot of ways, the improvement is simple mathematics since there are now 66 returning starts, more than 10 times the number Wickline could feature in that embarrassing loss to the Cougars. Along the offensive line, that experience is extremely critical -- it's all about strength and maturity and continuity, five extremely large men moving and working in unison, a coordinated ballet of bears.
Last fall, however, there simply wasn't enough depth to effectively make it through practices or games as injuries sidelined occasional starter Darius James and right guard Kent Perkins got banged up and Estelle's dismissal, along with Desmond Harrison's suspension, further limited the number of options available to Wickline.
"It's like night and day," Flowers said on Wednesday. "We had a good like six last year. We'd go through practice with people dying, and then somebody would get hurt during the game and it was like who is going in. We almost have like three lines, and having that is a big blessing. If somebody is not tired or somebody is not doing well, the coaches call them out. We just have somebody that can roll in and give somebody a breather."
So add accountability and competition to experience as the major changes from early last season.
But part of the problem was that the offensive line wasn't playing particularly well at the end of the year, regressing from the highs of the late-season winning streak and exacerbating the self-sacking tendencies of quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who became a turnover machine in blowouts at the hands of TCU and Arkansas.
Flowers took absolute responsibility for the quarterback's poor play last season.
"I put that on the o-line completely because if we would have been able to do the job that we had to our fullest, then he would've had an easier time back there," he said. "There were times when he had to sit there. He was having to scramble here, scramble there, look here, look there, and he wasn't able to focus on the receivers going downfield or focus on nobody was open so running. He had to focus on the o-line doing well. I put that all on us."
So one of the best ways to get improved quarterback play in 2015 is by getting improved play from an offensive line that added those four early enrollees and returned all of the players who started from the BYU game forward. In order to get better play in the trenches, Wickline actually has options now with much improved depth providing competition and accountability to the proceedings.
According to Flowers that needed progress is happening, but does the notoriously hard to please Wickline feel the same way?
"Coach [Joe] Wickline, he actually gave us a compliment and that's rare," Flowers said. "He gave us a compliment. He normally doesn't give anybody compliments, but he said, "Y'all are doing good but y'all still suck." [laughs] We're getting better every day."