O-line seeks depth, improvement, experience

Illustration: Josh Harrell and Shing Kai Chan/Iowa State Daily


Illustration: Josh Harrell and Shing Kai Chan/Iowa State Daily

Luke Plansky —

Coach Gene Chizik voiced his displeasure with the performance of the offensive line last season.

But in retrospect, the coach, in his second year, saw some positives in the efforts of the inexperienced 2007 front line.

“We were highly disappointed with a lot of the results with our offense last year — all of us, as coaches. But you go back and really look at it with a fine-toothed comb, there were some things that we did better,” Chizik said, referring to the offensive line. “But still, with a million miles to go, I really feel like they’ve come a long way, and I think you’ll even see some younger players stepping in there and being able to help us.”

Iowa State allowed just 17 sacks last season — fourth best in the Big 12 — after allowing a combined 77 sacks in 2005 and 2006.

With four of five starters returning and incoming talent, the offensive line appears to be a strength of the Iowa State football team in 2008.

The Cyclones bolstered the unit with the addition of redshirted freshmen and junior college transfers, which has provided increased intrasquad competition.

Senior Brandon Johnson (6-4, 322) and sophomore Ben Lamaak (6-5, 315) started every game last season at center and right tackle, respectively, but changed positions and are competing for right guard. Senior left tackle Doug Dedrick (6-4, 301) and junior left guard Reggie Stephens (6-4, 313) also return after starting every game last season, but both will be challenged by newcomers.

Sophomore Matt Hulbert (6-7, 286) will start at right tackle and is backed up by true freshman Scott Haughton (6-4, 335). Redshirt freshman Kelechi Osemele (6-5, 330), was last year’s scout team player-of-the-year and will share playing time with Stephens.

Junior Mike Knapp (6-3, 272) and sophomore Alex Alvarez (6-2, 291) are vying for center, and sophomore junior college transfer Hayworth Hicks (6-3, 330) will challenge Dedrick for playing time.

Only two players, Tom Schmeling and Stephens, had starting experience last season after sharing playing time at right guard in 2006.

“We’ve got competition up there and some experience on the team, where as last year we had no experience,” said offensive line coach and coordinator Robert McFarland. “We also have some very talented young men who got to see the offense for a full year [while redshirting]. I think the offensive line should be better. We won’t be more experienced, necessarily, with who is on the field, playing the position, but we should have a little bit better physical talent on the field.”

Iowa State averaged just 18.2 points per game last season and finished 10th in the conference in total rushing yards, with 1,484 yards. All three primary runningbacks — true sophomore Alexander Robinson and seniors Jason Scales and J.J. Bass — are back for another season.

Lamaak thought the offensive line has been building on experience from last year and would improve their play through competition.

“With the newcomers, it is going to add a lot of competition up front, which is good because it’s going to make us a lot better that way,” he said. “And with the depth like that, if someone goes down, obviously you’ll have a very good player to fill in, so we’re not losing anything there. If someone needs a blow, we can rotate guys in.”

McFarland said the unit has become stronger and more physical in the off-season while also trying to perfect their techniques.

Of the 20 offensive lineman on the roster, only four are seniors.

The Cyclones added 10 new offensive lineman last season, including the conversion of Lamaak from tight end to right tackle, while retaining nine lineman from Dan McCarney’s 2006 team.

Only Hulbert, Johnson, Knapp, Stephens, senior Joe Vanstrom and junior Evan Vencil were on the roster in 2006.

Four new players joined the team this season. Hicks will not redshirt and has three years of eligibility after transferring from Antelope Valley College in California. Freshman Scott Haughton could see playing time this season, while freshmen Drew Davis (6-9, 330) and Brayden Burris (6-6, 263) have imposing frames to build on for the future.