Ask anyone on the street which is the most difficult position on the football field to develop and they’ll probably quickly say it is the quarterback or one of the other skill positions. Someone who gives it a moment of thought might say linebacker or defensive back. However, if you ask a football coach the same question he’ll immediately tell you it’s the offensive line.
That’s right. The big guys up front, who get little credit when things are going well and all the blame when they are not, take time to mature physically and mentally. There’s a big difference between a freshman guard just out of high school and a senior defensive tackle who has spent four years working in a D-1 football program.
“The last couple of years we’ve had to play with guys who weren’t as physically ready to play as we would like for them to, even though they were gifted athletically,” said co-offensive coordinator/line coach Bill Legg. “Sometimes you get matched up against a veteran guy like the Poe kid from Memphis who was the other extreme and a very, very physically developed young man.”
The Poe kid, Legg is referencing is Dontari Poe, who caused headaches for Marshall’s line in a 23-22 come from behind win over the Tigers last season. Poe will be playing on Sunday’s this fall.
Take an 18-year-old running back, receiver or defensive back out of high school and insert them into the lineup and there will be growing pains, but more often than not sheer athleticism will take over at some point and to an extent compensate for a lack of experience. That simply is not the case up front. By the time a lineman reaches his senior year he has transformed from a teenager into a man and that makes a huge difference.
Linemen getting another year in the program are also getting another year to learn and understand the offensive system and blocking schemes.
“We can call one play 12 times, get 12 different looks and it turns out its blocked 12 different ways. That takes repetition, that takes experience,” explained Legg.
A stronger, smarter, and deeper offensive line should translate into more offensive production and in particularly more production running the football. Marshall averaged just 120 yards rushing per game and a 3.5 yards per rush. We all remember that Thundering Herd didn’t even score a rushing touchdown until week 7 of the season against Rice. The lack of a ground game 2011 has stuck with this year’s unit.
“We want to run the ball and have the coaches depend on us to run the ball,” said Alex Schooler. “I think its motivation more than anything.”
The Herd’s new fast paced; high tempo offensive scheme could also help what was a stagnant offense last season. The goal up front is to be in better shape than the opposition and be able to shove defensive linemen out of the way, opening up gaping holes for Travon Van, and Tron Martinez.
“We’re going to wear them down and in the fourth quarter we’re going to be smoking people,” promised center Chris Jasperse.
It’s spring and the offensive line looks good. It is big, strong and athletic, but it won’t be until Sept. 1st when it lines up against WVU will we truly know just how good this line really is.