Texas Tech’s Baylen Brown did an out-of-the-ordinary thing this season, starting a couple of games as a true freshman on a major-college offensive line.
Most true freshman linemen have a hard time even getting to practice with the guys who are going to play. That was mostly the case this year for Texas Tech’s offensive line signees from the 2013 class.
“The problem is once the season gets started, they go to scout team,” Tech offensive line coach Lee Hays said this week. “But now with the bowl prep, they’ve been able to come back with us, get reps, be part of the offense and get out there more so than in the past.”
Tech redshirted Cody Hayes from Fort Worth Eastern Hills, Josh Outlaw from Martin Luther King High School in Lithonia, Ga., and Poet Thomas from Country Day High School in Beverly Hills, Mich. Their development will be important, because the Red Raiders didn’t trust the offensive line depth much beyond the starters this season.
Coaches often say a bonus to receiving a bowl invitation is they can devote early to mid-December practice time to developing young players.
“That’s been great for Cody and Josh and Poet to try to catch up and get some of the reps,” Hays said. “Baylen’s been getting a bunch since he started the last two games.”
Here’s a capsule look at the progress of the four February signees:
Cody Hayes: The Red Raiders are still projecting Hayes, last spring’s Class 4A state runnerup in the shot put, as a guard. He’s had a steeper learning curve because Tech’s offense is a big change from what he played in high school.
His 6-foot-5, 275-pound frame and skill set provide a lot to like, though.
“He’ll play a natural guard,” Hays said. “He’s got great feet — great feet, and he’s aggressive. He’s got a little streak in him that I like. It’s just how fast he picks up everything.”
Josh Outlaw: The 6-3, 290-pound Georgia high school standout was recruited as a tackle and evaluated there in early August workouts. He spent all season practicing at guard, though, and that might be his future. Outlaw made the travel squad for some road games this year, to be used as a guard in case of multiple injuries.
He has played a little at tackle during workouts for the Holiday Bowl.
“Outlaw’s had the reps really multiply for him lately, getting in this deal,” Hays said. “He’s kind of showed some signs.”
Poet Thomas: Thomas reported to campus at 6-5 and 335, but has gotten some results from trying to tone his body, having slimmed down to 320. He’s viewed as a right tackle.
Hays calls him “still a project, a work in progress,” but that shouldn’t be taken to mean that he’s down on the young lineman. From summer to now, Hays has lauded Thomas for having a sunny disposition and good attitude about everything, both on and off the field.
“He’s growing into it,” Hays said. “It’s starting to slow down for him, and he’s been a joy academically.”
Baylen Brown: The San Antonio O’Connor product became the lead dog for the freshmen linemen by having his redshirt removed early in the year and starting by the end of the year against Baylor and Texas.
He played each of the last two games at guard, and he’ll remain a candidate there and at center as he matures, Hays said.
“The young guys were really pressured hard coming in,” Hays said, “because we didn’t have any depth. So there was a lot of pressure on them, and they were thrown in there. It’s starting to slow down for them a little bit.
“There’s a reason freshmen don’t just come in and start on the O-line, especially with what’s happening nowadays with the defenses and their looks and all the zone blitzes and zone pressures and different fronts.
“Really, all the freshmen with the exception of Baylen, it’s a whole new (experience). They’re not used to combos or this, this or that. So it’s been a little bit of a learning curve for them.”
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