STILLWATER — Within the collection of Caleb Etienne, Taylor Miterko, Danny Godlevske, Jake Springfield, Josh Sills and Hunter Woodard you’ll find: two transfers, a tackle with four games under his belt, a former walk-on, a second-year starter, a sixth-year lineman and plenty of talent, too.
How well can the hodgepodge group with varied backgrounds protect Spencer Sanders and pave the way for OSU’s myriad running backs? Only time will tell. But unlike OSU’s starting front line from a year ago, this one is stable, for the time being at least. And it’s the group Mike Gundy and Co. are confidently rolling with into Week 1.
“I’m pretty comfortable with what we’re doing up front, with all of them,” Gundy said Aug. 19.
Comfort, much less continuity, was hard to come by for OSU on the offensive line in 2020.
Preseason departures including the exit of experienced starter Bryce Bray and subsequent season-ending injuries to Hunter Anthony and Cole Birmingham plagued a snakebitten position group, undercutting the Cowboys’ already depleted O-line and thrusting newcomers like Springfield and Woodard into new roles.
The result? OSU conceded 28 sacks — third-most in the Big 12 — and returns from an offense that also saw skill players and quarterback Spencer Sanders miss time with injuries were ultimately underwhelming.
“We didn’t do what everyone expected of us last year,” veteran left guard Sills said earlier this month. “Was some of that due to injuries? Yes. Was some of it due to other things? Yes. It was a little bit of everything.”
From a group that dealt with a little bit of everything in 2020, the Cowboys’ offensive line has a little bit of everything in 2021.
The initial depth chart released Thursday confirmed that the fall camp competition between Etienne and Miterko for the starting left tackle role is set to carry into the season, and both will see snaps in the Sept. 4 opener against Missouri State. Whichever lineman loses out on the top job, according to Gundy, can expect to be utilized as a “swing tackle” across the offensive line.
“We’re both working guys,” Gundy said. “We feel good about them. At some point somebody will take that role.”
Etienne is battling not only Miterko, but also the burden of transitioning to life in a Power Five program as he joins OSU from Butler Community College. Teammates such as running back Dezmon Jackson know the challenges Etienne is facing.
“Coming here to a bigger school from junior college, it’s an adjustment,” said Jackson, who transferred from Hutchinson Community College in 2019. “I think he’ll get comfortable. I just now got comfortable last year and this is my third year. It takes a little bit of time.”
Godlevske represents the line’s more experienced transfer, coming to Stillwater after making 40 starts at Miami (Ohio) from 2016-20.
A 6-foot-2, 300-pound center, Godlevske helped steady an offensive line in need of balance when he joined the program in the spring, and has maintained the role. He’s picked up the offense quickly and become a tone-setter in the middle, often the first one set when OSU runs its turbo offense in practice. Gundy on Thursday praised Godlevske for his work habits, toughness and competitive nature.
“It’s been night and day different from last year having (Godlevske’s) football knowledge and the experience he has,” Sills said. “He’s a sponge.”
Springfield and Woodard round out the group.
Beneficiaries of being tossed into the fray last fall, they now enter their first seasons as solidified starters with wells of experience to tap into. Each was asked to take on starting roles earlier than they might have otherwise, and through last season’s inevitable struggles also came growth that has sharpened both Springfield and Woodward to compete on a line OSU will need to come into its own in 2021.
“I have more confidence this fall,” Springfield said. “A lot more coming in. There’s been a lot more time for me to prepare myself mentally. Now I have more feel for the playbook. I have a good feel for what I can do and how I can contribute.”