FOOTBALL: Offensive line slimmer, more athletic

football versus Iowa september 15 2008 photo: jon lemons/iowa state daily


football versus Iowa september 15 2008 photo: jon lemons/iowa state daily

Michael Zogg

With all the talk of quarterbacks, wide receivers and the new spread offense, the offensive line can get lost in the shuffle.

Although they don’t get a lot of ink, the ISU linemen are on the verge of being a successful unit.

One attribute that pops out about this group of linemen is its shear size. The starting five sport an average weight of more than 326 pounds.

“We’re big,” said head coach Paul Rhoads. “As a player, as a coach, one of the first things I do is grab the opponent’s depth chart and look at sizes. Offensive lines should be big and strong.”

While size is a good attribute for an offensive line, the coaching staff has been working with the linemen to drop some weight.

“Over the summer, a lot of the guys were even heavier than they are now, including myself,” said senior center Reggie Stephens. “We’ve all cut down a lot of weight as a group.”

Offensive line coach Bill Bleil said the players still have a ways to go before they hit their target weights, but the team seems excited about the progress it has made so far. Bleil claimed that sophomore left tackle Kelechi Osemele’s body fat is down 11 percent from last season.

“Even though they are carrying a lot of weight, they are not carrying as much fat,” Bleil said. “I think they will be more athletic, I think they will be a little bit quicker of foot, and speed is still the name of the game.”

But the physical aspect is only one part of the game. Bleil feels the real strength of this group lies in the mental aspect.

“The one thing that they really do well is they are very knowledgeable,” Bleil said. “They understand the game and they understand how to get things blocked, and they understand the whole scheme, not just what they are supposed to do.”

One reason they are so knowledgeable is because the offensive line has more experience than any other position on the team. Four of the five projected starters earned at least one letter, and they all have played more than one position on the line.

Since they have all played together in the past, they feel their communication skills are much improved.

“It is really good to have continuity in there to know what the guy next to you is thinking about and what he is seeing,” Stephens said.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the middle of the line.

“The inside three, [Alex] Alvarez, Stephens and [Ben] Lamaak, they really have a good understanding between each other as far as knowing the game and communication skills,” Bleil said.

The starters may not be able to play every play all season, however. Therefore, the second-string linemen become important as well.

“We’ve got to find depth,” Rhoads said at media day. “We’ve got a first unit that, I think, is pretty good. We’ve got to get some people behind them [in case] someone goes down with an injury. We’ve got to know we can put somebody out there that’s not going to be a hole, that a defense isn’t going to exploit and attack.”

Through training camp, Bleil thinks he has found a couple of guys that can fill that role off the bench.

“You are never as deep as you would like to be, but right now we feel pretty good about it,” Bleil said. “Hayworth Hicks is really playing well right now and Brayden Burris, a redshirt freshman, is really looking good.”