Competition builds camaraderie

Matt Gubbels

Even though the ISU football team returns four starters from last season’s offensive line, coach Gene Chizik said that doesn’t mean much for 2008.

“We don’t endorse that because you started last year… having that inheritance-type mentality with a position,” Chizik said. “Everybody is starting over, and the offensive line is one area where we have a lot of starters back.”

The four returners – seniors Brandon Johnson and Doug Dedrick, junior Reggie Stephens, and sophomore Ben Lamaak, find themselves battling along with the newcomers for a spot on the field this fall and being pushed hard by several different players.

Offensive coordinator Robert McFarland said the offense is improving through its daily competition and that there has been a series of shake-ups.

“It’s a constant daily change of positions and depth-chart status,” said McFarland. “I think we’re getting a general grasp of what’s going on, and I think we’ve made some strides – and we’re getting better.”

Dedrick said the competition has helped build camaraderie amongst the linemen.

“You’re kind of gunning for the other guy, and the other guy is gunning for you – but then again, you all understand it’s competition and it’s football,” Dedrick said. “All is fair in love and war.”

Although the offensive linemen are constantly competing for position, many friendships have sprung from being grouped together in an intense sport.

Dedrick added that the linemen spend time together during both practice and class, and some of them are roommates, as well, which adds to their togetherness.

“That is a really crucial part – understanding the guy who is working next to you and the guy you are going to be working hand-in-hand with,” Dedrick said. “You have to understand his tendencies, mannerisms, everything – and I think that’s key to developing as an offensive line.”

He emphasized that knowing everything you can about your competition is the best thing you can do to be one step ahead in the game.

“That cohesion is key.”

Last year’s offensive line had varied success, but running backs JJ Bass, Jason Scales and Alexander Robinson all had 100-yard games last season.

McFarland said the a major improvement the offensive line needs to make before the fall is within its communication on the offensive line.

“Offensive line is one of those positions that you have to handle a lot of different things at a very fast pace, and you have to make adjustments on a dime,” McFarland said. “We obviously have a ways to go as far as the expectations that I have, and that they have themselves of what an offensive line is supposed to look like.”

Dedrick said part of the issue is that each lineman communicates in his own way.

“We’ve changed a few things, and we’ve changed a little bit of the offense,” Dedrick said. “We really just have to get that stuff perfected, and get it on lock – and we’ll be ready to go.”