Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Linfield Football Spring Review: Offensive Line

4 out of 5 starters return to Linfield's offensive line in 2011
Time to talk about the players that usually get talked about the least but have the biggest impact on a team: the offensive line.  Call me Captain Obvious here but we all know with poor offensive line play there is little chance of being a successful offense and being a successful team.  The guys up front have to be able to move bodies, make adjustments on the fly, keep their QB upright, have great communication skills, be both mentally and physically tough and as any defensive lineman will tell you.....hold on every single play!  Obviously joking about the holding (kind of) but even this former d-lineman will tell you that the good O-line is foundation to any great football team.

The 2011 Linfield Wildcats are bringing back something they haven't had in a few years now: mostly returning starters on the offensive line.  Over the past few season's Coach Hire has had put together new units to make the trenches and results have been stellar with a great senior laden O-Line in 2009 and an offensive line that was influx early but caught their stride about week 3 when Coach Hire and the offensive staff put together the starting unit of Aaron Heston, Jordan Barnes, Hayden Mace, Drew Wert, and Kaston Gleason.  This starting five helped the 'Cats pile up 41 points per game and 454 yards per game.

Jordan Barnes will be in his 3rd year starting for the 'Cats at guard and already has two 1st team All-NWC honors to his credit.  Next to Barnes will be starting Center Hayden Mace who picked up a 2nd team All-NWC honor after last season.  I'm expecting these two, as Seniors, to carry the bulk of the leadership role and set the example necessary for the continued growth of the offensive line.  A player I think to keep an eye on, besides Barnes and Mace, is Drew Wert.  I thought Wert grew each game he started last season and I believe going to make a nice leap up in 2011.  Rounding out the returners is Kaston Gleason who was solid for the 'Cats as pass blocking tackle in 2011.  I'm expecting Kaston to be a more confident player this season and that should equate to him keeping speedy ends out of the 'Cats backfield.

While it's great to have 4 starters back the 'Cats did lose to graduation: All-American left tackle Aaron Heston, starting tight end Chris Saunders  (who was a fine blocking TE), and a solid veteran guard in Cheyne Kaninau.   Replacing any all-american is a tough task but replacing productive offensive tackles in Division III might be the hardest find of all in non-scholarship football.  So even with the outlook of 4 very good starters coming back there are questions to be answered before September.

Returning Starters

Jordan Barnes Guard, 6-1 275lbs, Senior
Hayden Mace Center, 6-2 270lbs, Senior
Kaston Gleason Tackle, 6-0 250lbs, Junior
Drew Wert Guard, 6-1 280lbs, Junior

Steady Vets

Eric Anderson Guard, 6-3 287lbs, Senior
Eddie Fennimore Guard, 6-5 280lbs, Junior
Bryan Anderson Tight End, 6-3 230lbs, Senior

Up and Coming

Jacob Priester Tight End, 6-2 214lbs, sophomore
Seth Conder Tackle, 6-2 245lbs, Junior
Zach Hickman Guard, 6-2 290lbs, Sophomore
David Balfour Tackle, 6-2 280lbs, Junior
Jesse Archambault Tackle, 6-3 230lbs, Sophomore
Mike Harris Tackle, 6-5 250lbs, Sophomore
Hayden Sanders Tackle, 6-4 240lbs, Sophomore
Kyler Spears Guard, 6-3 291lbs, Sophomore
Austin James Guard, 6-4 295lbs, Junior
Jeremy Patrick Center, 6-2 265lbs, Sophmore
Kyle Jones Center, 5-11 257lbs, Sophomre

Talkin' Ball With Associate Head Coach/ Offensive Line Coach Doug Hire
Offensive Line Coach Doug Hire is leading the 'Cats O-Line for his 12th season.

(Wildcat11) Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Coach Hire. First off, how do you feel the spring went from an offensive line perspective?

(Doug Hire) Spring ball was fine as we are limited to what we can do. Worked on fundamentals and techniques both run blocking and pass protection. Also worked on schemes and assignments for both.

(WC11) Since there's no contact in spring football at the division 3 level how does that change you approach from the offensive line compare to fall camp?

(DH) Approach is very different without pads. Huge part of evaluating OL is the physical component which cannot be done without pads. Perhaps some toughness when you get hit in the face but for the most part evaluating techniques and assignments where the emphasis. The physical evaluation will come in the summer, an area we need to improve on.

(WC11) The offensive line lost two big bodies in Aaron Heston at Left Tackle and Chris Saunders at Tight End but the cupboard is stocked with 4 returning starters coming back. This is the first time in a few years where you have this many full time starters coming back on the offensive line. Can you breakdown what the strengths are of the returners and what areas of improvement have you been emphasizing with this group?

(DH) I may have 4 returners coming back but also have a lack depth and missing an OT. Do I have guys that potentially could fill in and create depth?  I believe I do, but it’s on them in the off season and summer training. Strengths of the returners obviously is experience. Mace, Gleason, and Wert were new starters last season with slow starts from Wert and Gleason. The last 2 years there were a lot juggling in the starting 5. Barnes, 2 time all conference, has most experience and confidence playing up front. Look to more leadership from him. Mace is a natural leader with intelligence making the calls.

(WC11) Something that I've always appreciated about our offensive line is the groups approach in rotating a players in the name of development and continuity. We have a number of very fine young offensive linemen along with some solid vets. Can you talk about the impact of the vets and young 'Cats will have next season on the offensive line and what the competition has been like this past off-season?

(DH) I would love to have 4 OT, 4 OG and 2 OC ready for the coming season. It has been a while since I have had that kind of depth. Do we have the potential in creating this depth? I believe we do with the guys coming in and with the returners. I hope it’s very competitive! This will elevate our potential as a group. The oline is different from other positions especially at our level. A lot of work and training is on our guys where they have to retain what has been taught as a group and individually and work on these on their own. The position is unnatural, we do not play pick up oline drills, or grab some guys and say hay let’s play one and one pass pro. Physically we need to improve and I believe part of that will come from confidence in their training improving power and strength, commitment in the weight room and the other coming from me when summer camp comes.

I made it clear to the returning group this spring that I need to see the effort and results in improving both mentally and physically. We can’t take 2 steps forward and 1 back every day especially for the guys who have been in the program 2 or 3 years and for the guys who feel they will be able to fill in next year. We cannot be making the same mistakes over and over and over again. I will move forward and coach my tail off but our guys need to take ownership in retaining what has been taught mentally and physically.

(WC11) Let's talk about our Tight Ends. Jocob Preister will be returning for his Sophomore season and showed some great promise as a weapon in the 'Cats passing game and Bryan Anderson has been a steady special teams performer the past two seasons. How did the Tight Ends shape up during this past spring? Are we going to have the depth and size necessary in order to impact the running game?

(DH) Jacob is a special football player one who takes pride in perfection and execution. He has the tools to be great: speed, toughness, mentally sharp, and understands football. We saw this early in camp last season. He knows his weaknesses and has worked on them. I expect great things from him. Bryan transitioned from LB to TE late last fall. Very athletic and tough, just needs a little bit more time. Summer camp will be critical for him. No question he will again impact special team play.

(WC11) A huge question that any teams has is when a new quarterback is going to be lining up behind center. That's a question the 'Cats will have this upcoming fall. Can you talk about what additional pressure, if any, is on the offensive line to get our next quarterback in a rhythm and comfortable behind center?

(DH) Good question. We all have the responsibility of transitioning any new QB into the system- oline, QB coach, receivers, offensive coordinator, and head coach. I do know that Micky has worked very hard this spring physically and mentally as well as working as a leader by example.

I believe that it does not matter what’s behind me as an olineman. It’s what’s in front of me and who’s next to me that matters. What we do and how we do it should not change because there is a different QB or RB. The expectations are the same- do our job protecting the QB and opening holes for the RB. Preparation and execution of assignments, being physical, sustaining and finishing blocks, communicating, making good calls, all that good stuff. We control what we can control. We will not try and do more than we are capable of doing, this is a recipe for disaster. You know this. Finally, big part of my job is develop olinemen in every facet-mentally, physically, technically, schematically, and over knowledge of the game in addition teach life long skills that’s will transfer after football. I will adapt, improvise, and over come! HBR! Part of teaching is evaluating your players and placing them in a position to succeed.

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