Joeckel, Matthews help make A&M go

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- You've seen the highlights.

Johnny Manziel runs right. Johnny Manziel runs left. Johnny Manziel runs a circle around Arkansas. Johnny Manziel runs into his own right tackle, Jake Matthews, loses the football, catches it and throws a touchdown pass to Ryan Swope against Alabama.

These plays help Texas A&M's redshirt freshman quarterback make the highlight reels that have accentuated his nickname, "Johnny Football." And in the vast majority of these instances, Manziel finds a lot of time in the pocket or in the backfield as his offensive line blocks and blocks and blocks and blocks some more.

"It gets pretty tiring," junior left tackle Luke Joeckel said, laughing. "There have been a few games where I feel like we're going on 15-second plays."

But left tackle Joeckel, right tackle Jake Matthews, guards Jarvis Harrison and Cedric Ogbuehi and center Patrick Lewis have conditioned for this. They've developed a chemistry with the young signal caller that has helped Texas A&M's offense rank fifth in the nation (543.7 yards per game) and put Manziel into the Heisman Trophy conversation.

All five have performed admirably this season, and NFL scouts have flocked to Texas A&M games to evaluate Joeckel and Matthews in particular.

The 6-foot-6, 310-pound Joeckel was recently named a finalist for the Outland Trophy, which is annually given to the nation's top interior lineman. The 6-5, 305-pound Matthews has had a strong season of his own as well, as both have excelled in protecting Manziel.

That's a job easier said than done when Manziel begins to improvise, taking defensive linemen with him.

"It's a mindset," said Matthews, son of NFL Hall of Famer and Tennessee Titans offensive line coach Bruce Matthews. "Ever since he came into the lineup, even going back to the spring with him playing with the ones a little bit, he runs around and he can make plays. Coach [B.J.] Anderson has really pushed it and embedded it into our minds that 'Hey, we have to hold our blocks as long as possible and Johnny's going to make plays. If we just keep playing like that, we're going to have success.'"

Coming into the season, Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin wasn't shy about saying that his front five was the strength of his football team. It is hard to argue that: the starting five came into the season with 92 combined starts to its credit and the group has started all 11 games this season, giving them 147 heading into Saturday's showdown with Missouri. They haven't disappointed and Joeckel and Matthews, both juniors, have been an integral part of that.

"They're extremely athletic," said Anderson, the Aggies' offensive line coach. "They've played a lot of football games, so they have a ton of experience under their belt. They've got a passion for playing the game. It's important to them. They're film junkies. If they're not in class, they're studying tape. They're thorough in their preparation and are really good players."

Joeckel, whom Mel Kiper has ranked sixth on his latest "Big Board" is humbled by the accolades and attention. Matthews, too, is a likely early-round NFL draft pick and both will have a decision to make after the season on whether to stay at Texas A&M another year or go pro.

"It's got to be the best thing for me and the right fit," Joeckel said. "Education is very important to me and I came here to get a degree and I'm a business major and am in a great school, the Mays Business School. That was huge for me coming in. There's going to be a lot of factors going into it. I'll consult my family, coaches, all that and then we'll figure it out when that comes up."

Similarly, Matthews said he has loved his time at Texas A&M and will consider many factors when deciding his future.

"How we finish, what the team's looking like next year, the guys, the atmosphere here [will factor in]," he said "I really enjoy coming to A&M. I'm extremely satisfied with my decision to come here. I like it a lot. It's something that I have to think about it, but there's a lot of things I like about this place."

And the Aggies love having them, too. Lewis, who is the quarterback of the defense (and whom Joeckel and Matthews had effusive praise for) said the pair of tackles work as hard as anybody.

"They do a phenomenal job of just being themselves and never giving up," Lewis said. "They work really hard....One thing I can say: they're pretty consistent in what they do. In practice, they go hard. They do a good job competing against each other and making each other better. They talk a lot of football and they watch film together. They do the little things that make great offensive linemen. One day, they will be really good offensive linemen in the NFL.”