Lukas Moore --
Before I dive into what returns for the Ohio offensive line, I'd like to explain how this blog and our radio shows will be utilizing our access and ability to publish Pro Football Focus information. First, I want to thank Matt Stopsky and all the great people at Pro Football Focus, this information and their guests will be a huge addition to our coverage of the Ohio Bobcats.
We will be able to dive into the Bobcats like no other outlet with the in-depth information provided by Pro Football Focus, the best football analytics company in the world. We will look past the basic numbers and truly dive into the Ohio Bobcats during their quest for their first MAC championship since 1968. Now, let's look at what the Bobcats have returning on the offensive line in 2019, and what we should expect from the big 'Cats up front.
In 2018 the Bobcats had a Pro Football Focus run blocking grade of 80.3 (0-100 scale) which ranked 7th in the FBS. This dominant offensive line paved the way for the Bobcats to rush for an astonishing 259 yards per game. The unit was headlined by three Seniors, Joe Lowery, Joe Anderson, and Durrell Wood; so new faces will populate the Ohio front.
A new face will be leading the unit as well, Allen Rudolph will be the third offensive line coach for Ohio in the last four years. This is due to the immense success Ohio has had at the position. Rudolph will be stepping into an important role, and has the full backing of Frank Solich. Rudolph's ability to move the offensive line into the future, after the departure of Lowery, Anderson, and Wood, is arguably the most important piece to a MAC championship for the Bobcats.
Despite the losses, Rudolph will still have talent to work with. Four lineman return for Ohio who had over 100 snaps played in 2018. But their performance will have to improve in bigger roles for Ohio to recapture some of the dominance displayed. Pro Football Focus shows us how much that improvement needs to be.
PFF 2018 Grades for Ohio's returning lineman (min. 100 snaps)
RT - Austen Pleasants - 70.9 Overall, 62.4 Pass Blocking & 71.9 Run Blocking
C - Brett Kitrell - 70.3 Overall, 77.8 Pass Blocking & 68.7 Run Blocking
G - Hagen Meservy - 68.8 Overall, 66.7 Pass Blocking & 71.9 Run Blocking
C - Steven Hayes - 62.6 Overall, 80.4 Pass Blocking & 58.7 Run Blocking
Austen Pleasants, a redshirt senior, has the most important role to fill as he moves from right tackle to left tackle. Nathan Rourke's health is integral for Ohio to hoist a trophy in Detroit, making Pleasants' performance on his blindside even more crucial. Problem is, Pleasants struggled at pass blocking in 2018. In fact, he is the lowest graded returning lineman in this metric. Pleasants pass block grade is miles behind what Joe Lowery accomplished at Left Tackle last season. Lowery won Pro Football Focus' MAC player of the year with an astonishing 86.4 overall grade, good for 5th in the country. His pass blocking grade was 92.3, making him the 4th best pass blocker in the country last season according to PFF. Pleasants has ginormous shoes to fill, and a lot of improvement will need to be made to fill them.
Brett Kitrell, a Junior, was graded as the second best returning lineman. This is impressive consider Kitrell played center and guard a year ago. He will be moving to left guard to start the season for Ohio, his near 70 run blocking grade will be important at that position. A year in the weight room and a year of stability should propel Kitrell to a solid season.
Hagen Meservy will fill in at the right guard position, the Junior was effective in his appearances in 2018. He is tied with Pleasants for the best returning run blocking grade, and was serviceable as a pass blocker.
Steven Hayes is the most interesting player returning from 2018. The redshirt senior is expected to play Center, and his pass blocking grade is impressive at 80.4. But he is the worst run blocker returning for Ohio, with just a 58.7 in the category. Runs up the middle, or off the guards have been integral in Ohio's offense. Hayes will have to be steady on running plays if Ohio has any hope of returning to its 2018 dominance.
I'm not sure it is a realistic ask for the Ohio offensive line to reach the PFF grade plateau of 80, which would make them a top 10 unit in the country. But, if they can find a way to grade out at 75-77, the Bobcats offense should still score points in bunches with Rourke pulling the trigger.