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August 30, 2011

Linemen benefit most from redshirt year

While elite skill-position performers often utilize their athleticism to play right away as true freshmen, linemen often need a year to get their bodies ready for the physical toll that comes with playing their positions.

That's why it should come as no surprise that offensive and defensive linemen dominate our list of redshirt freshmen expected to make an impact this season. Some of the guys on our list had to add or lose weight before they were ready. Now that they've spent a year in the weight room and at the training table, they're ready to move into the starting lineup.

This list isn't reserved exclusively for linemen. We do have some receivers on our list and even a quarterback who could earn a starting spot for a national title contender. But you'll be able to find most of the noteworthy redshirt freshmen this season right on the line of scrimmage.

REDSHIRT FRESHMEN TO WATCH
Particulars: 6-3/206; Arlington (Texas) Oakridge
The buzz: This former four-star prospect was a heralded recruit for BYU; he signed with the Cougars after originally committing to Texas. Apo played well in the preseason last year and participated in the season opener, but he sustained an open dislocation of his left index finger in a September practice and ended up taking a redshirt. Now that he's back on the field, Apo should team up with 6-foot-4 sophomore Cody Hoffman to give BYU quarterback Jake Heaps a pair of targets who can create matchup problems for just about any secondary. The emergence of Apo and Hoffman plus the return of senior McKay Jacobson ought to give BYU a vastly improved receiving corps.
Particulars: Baucus: 6-8/303; Mundelein (Ill.) Carmel Catholic. Ebbele: 6-8/305; Chicago Simeon
The buzz: Arizona is counting on these two Chicago-area skyscrapers -- each is 6-8 -- to give senior QB Nick Foles ample time to throw. Baucus is expected to open the season as Arizona's starting left tackle, while Ebbele will man the right side. They will need to grow up in a hurry, as Arizona is breaking in five new starters on the line. Arizona allowed 32 sacks last season and must do a better job of protecting Foles this season.
Particulars: 6-3/305; Bamberg (S.C.) Bamberg-Ehrhardt
The buzz: TB Marcus Lattimore's chances of improving upon his outstanding freshman season could depend on how well the Gamecocks' two new starting guards create running room. While sixth-year senior Terrence Campbell moves into the starting lineup at right guard, Cann is atop the depth chart at left guard. The Gamecocks would love Cann to showcase the versatility and athleticism that made him a Rivals250 recruit.
Particulars: 6-1/184; Miami Booker T. Washington
The buzz: Florida desperately needs more production from its receiving corps, as no Gator accumulated more than 570 receiving yards or caught more than three touchdown passes last season. That should create an opportunity for Dunbar, who showed plenty of improvement during spring practice and has built on that momentum during preseason camp. This former Rivals250 prospect could emerge as a quality deep threat in Florida's new pro-style offense.
Particulars: 6-6/301; Prichard (Ala.) Vigor
The buzz: Eatmon spent his redshirt season taking major steps to get in shape. When he arrived on campus, Eatmon weighed 362 pounds, reportedly about 30 pounds heavier than his playing weight his senior year in high school. He now is listed at 301. That weight loss has helped give Eatmon the inside track on the starting spot at right tackle.
Particulars: 6-4/298; Cedar Park (Texas) High
The buzz: Espinosa signed with Texas as the No. 1 center and No. 115 overall prospect in the 2010 recruiting class. Espinosa has worked with the first-team offense most of the preseason and is expected to open the year in the starting lineup. Espinosa has been so impressive that the Longhorns have moved senior David Snow -- last year's starting center -- to guard, where he made five starts in 2009.
Particulars: Fely: 5-10/200; Oceanside (Calif.) High. Galea: 6-3/255; Elk Grove (Calif.) Franklin
The buzz: San Diego State likely will open the season with two redshirt freshmen on its first-team defense. Fely, a former three-star recruit, played three games last season before taking a medical redshirt after getting injured in practice. The all-around athlete was the most valuable player of the Oceanside baseball team and also wrestled in high school. Galea, a two-star recruit who played linebacker in high school, set a school record with 134 tackles his junior season at Franklin.
Particulars: 6-3/291; Encino (Calif.) Crespi
The buzz: Grasu has beaten out sophomore Karrington Armstrong for the right to replace departed two-year starter Jordan Holmes as Oregon's No. 1 center. The former three-star recruit was a star offensive and defensive lineman in high school. Grasu will have a hard act to follow. Oregon's past two centers -- Holmes and Max Unger -- were among the nation's best at their position.
Particulars: 6-3/275; Columbus (Ohio) St. Francis DeSales
The buzz: Michigan State returning two starters at guard in Joel Foreman and Chris McDonald, but the Spartans must break in a new center. Jackson appears to have the edge over junior Blake Treadwell (the son of Miami of Ohio coach/former Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell) in the battle for the starting spot. Jackson, a former three-star recruit, was a finalist for Ohio's "Mr. Football" award in high school.
Particulars: 6-3/305; Tahlequah (Okla.) Sequoyah
The buzz: This former three-star prospect has moved his way toward a featured role by following the same strategy that helped Eatmon win a starting job at USF. Littlehead reportedly weighed 358 pounds when he arrived on campus last summer, but he now is listed at 305. Littlehead and junior Nigel Nicholas will open the season as Oklahoma State's starting defensive tackles.
Particulars: Reed: 6-0/183; Thibodaux (La.) High. Slade: 6-5/320; Moody (Ala.) High.
The buzz: Slade likely will open the season as Auburn's starting right tackle, while Reed should get plenty of playing time at receiver. Slade has the versatility to play either guard or tackle, but the former three-star recruit apparently has found a home at right tackle. Reed, the No. 46 overall prospect in the 2010 recruiting class, appeared in just one game last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury. His athleticism could allow him to help out on punt returns and as a quarterback in the "Wildcat" formation. He is listed as a second-team wide receiver for Auburn's season opener against Utah State.
Particulars: 6-5/241; Carrollton (Texas) Creekview
The buzz: Purdue fans are hoping a first name isn't the only thing Russell has in common with Ryan Kerrigan, the Boilermakers' first unanimous All-American since 1980. Nobody expects Russell to match the production of Kerrigan, who had 12.5 sacks and led the nation with 26 tackles for loss last season before going to the Washington Redskins with the 16th overall pick in the NFL draft. But the redshirt freshman seems likely to fill Kerrigan's old spot in the starting lineup.
Particulars: 6-2/217; Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith
The buzz: Sims, the No. 2 pro-style quarterback and No. 67 overall prospect in the 2010 recruiting class, is competing with sophomore A.J. McCarron for the starting quarterback job. Alabama coach Nick Saban hasn't offered many clues about which candidate has the edge, and it wouldn't be a surprise if both played in Saturday's season opener against Kent State. Sims graduated from Oscar Smith with state records for career passing yards (10,725) and touchdown passes (119). If Sims wins the job, he could end up throwing often to another redshirt freshman. DeAndrew White has garnered plenty of attention with his performance in preseason camp.
Particulars: 6-3/300; Edison (N.J.) Bishop George Ahr
The buzz: Vitabile has performed well enough to emerge as a likely starter, even though Northwestern already had a center who had started each of the past three seasons. Senior Ben Burkett has moved from center to guard to accommodate Vitabile's likely move into the starting lineup. Vitabile isn't the only redshirt freshman who could crack the starting lineup for Northwestern's season opener at Boston College on Saturday. Ibraheim Campbell could earn a starting spot at safety for the season opener if David Arnold's sprained ankle hasn't fully healed by the weekend.
Particulars: 6-6/313; Lake Dallas (Texas) High
The buzz: This former four-star recruit didn't allow a sack as a high school senior. The Sooners would love to see Williams deliver similar results this season. Williams will open the season as the starting right tackle for the nation's top-ranked team.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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