Note: One in a series of previews of the Central Michigan football team as it prepares for its 2018 season opener at Kentucky on Sept. 1. Today: The offensive line. Tuesday: The defense.
Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Time heals all wounds.
Good thing for the Central Michigan offensive line.
The Chippewas were bitten hard by the injury bug throughout the winter and through spring practice. But as they enter now into the grinding dog days of training camp in the leadup to the Sept. 1 opener at Kentucky, CMU is healthy up front, or at least much healthier than it was back in April.
As always, there are two ways to look at it: The pessimists lament the losses; the optimists seize on the opportunity.
“To me its finding out how we are going to get the best five guys out there,” offensive line coach/run-game coordinator Derek Frazier said. “You want to see guys really show that consistency and show that ability to execute play in and play out.”
Several veterans return to the offensive line in the likes of Shakir Carr, who has made 17 starts over the past two seasons, and Steve Eipper, a mainstay last season at guard. Among the other veterans who have either started or played significantly last season and in prior seasons are Alex Neering, Clayton Walderzak and Derek Smith.
Walderzack moved to tackle from tight end last season and became a starter despite the fact that, at 270 pounds, he may be the lightest tackle in the Mid-American Conference.
“He’s exceptionally strong,” CMU coach John Bonamego said. “Clay Walderzak is an extremely strong man.”
Key to the success of the line – Football 101: If you don’t have a good offensive line, you don’t really have a good football team -- is continuity and experience. Playing together over a period of time is every bit as important as simply playing.
The Chippewa line, not unlike others around college football, has had to become more athletic in the recent past as offenses have evolved into the uptempo no-huddle sets that seem to dominate the landscape nowadays.
“You know we’re are playing fast,” Frazier said. “That’s what you want. I think the biggest thing is defenses are getting more athletic. They are faster, they are more explosive, and so you need guys that can be explosive and be fast and be able to recover and transition. I think we are getting to that where we are adding some really good athleticism and we are adding some really good physicality and explosiveness on the line.”
The Chippewas’ last few recruiting classes have included several lineman with good potential. But offensive linemen, sort of like pitching depth in baseball, takes time and patience to cultivate and develop. The Chippewas are clearly moving in the right direction under that blueprint.
“I think it comes down, really, to physical size and strength,” Bonamego said. “There are big strong people who play this game at this level. Not many kids are just going to walk in off the street and be strong enough to hold up and then if they are strong enough it takes a while to master the different techniques.”