The question for Houston is were last years issues running the football due to continuity and injury issues or does it come down to talent and/or scheme? We'd like to think it's the former. The Coogs return almost everyone from their 2016 line, including some young players thrown into the fire who gained valuable experience. Houston fell from 13th in the country in rushing to 99th in 2016. They're production on the ground dropped by nearly 1,400 yards. Can Houston get back to running the ball? It all starts up front.
If Will Noble stays healthy, he's a bell cow in the middle at center. Noble missed spring practice recovering from injury. He's a two time Rimington Watch List finalist and has started 2o games in his two seasons at Houston. Noble also improved from year one to year two, that development should carry on as he continues masters the Cougar offense.
On Noble's left and right are Marcus Oliver, brother of freshman phenom Ed, and Mason Denley. Denley missed the spring with an injury but started six games last season as a redshirt sophomore. Oliver, a senior, has made fifteen starts in his career including eight at right guard. Houston used six different guards last season, rarely lining up the same pair back to back. Junior Kameron Eloph gained valuable experience making four starts at left guard. He will challenge for playing time as well. Alex Fontana started five games at guard in 2016. He's a thumper inside, but limited athletically compared to Denley and Oliver.
Redshirt sophomore Josh Jones was the only Cougar to start every game on the offensive line, holding down the left tackle position. We like Josh Jones a lot. He's a plus athlete and really grew into the position as a young player. He moves well and played more physical later in the year. Still we wouldn't mind seeing him get a little more junk in the proverbial trunk to take on physical edge players.
At the other tackle position Na'Ty Rogers and Braylon Jones split starts with Rogers, a JC transfer, starting the first seven games and Jones filling in for the last six. Ideally Rogers, a four-star recruit, would play the position. Braylon Jones, was thrown in as a true freshman. That experience is invaluable. He lacks ideal size to play on the edge and might be better inside.