Entering the 2009
season, there are few question marks about a young but talented Bronco football
team. The QB debate has long been
put to rest. The running back roster
is deep. The wide receiver corps
should perform admirably. The
defense is as solid as it ever has been. The
offensive line is…huh…how about that offensive line?
Pondering the offensive line causes the author's warm fuzzy feeling to
fade but should it?
article we'll look at where the O-line has been, where they are now, and where
they're going. Former Bronco Jeff Cavender will weigh in on his assessment of the current line as well as giving
insight to what it took to make his line so successful.
The 2008 offensive
line was in a constant state of flux. Anchored
by veteran Andrew Woodruff, the line went through more starting lineup changes
than Van Halen front men: 13 different lineups to be exact.
The only constant was then-freshman, Thomas Byrd at center.
Heralded for their athleticism and potential,
offensive line coach Scott Huff tweaked the lineup, trying to find the right
combination, the young line occasionally sputtered.
At no time was this more apparent than against a large, physical, senior
laden TCU defensive line in the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl.
As the trench warfare raged on, the line struggled to open up holes and
create lanes, resulting in a net of only 28 rushing yards.
In fact, the running game was disappointing all season.
Despite a deep stable of running backs that included senior Ian Johnson,
the run game averaged only 4.4 yards per carry, the lowest since 2003.
woes, the 2008 O-line developed into proficient pass blockers, allowing
wunderkind Kellen Moore to flourish and establish himself as the best freshman
quarterback in the nation. Athletic,
agile, and fast proved to be more than a challenge to most would-be pass
rushers. The O-line would contribute
to an astonishing 11.7 yards per pass, the highest since 2005.
The offensive line
exited spring ball with more confidence. Despite
their age, this is now a squad that can claim some experience and it's
beginning to pay off. While starters
Nate Potter and Kevin Sapien were out with injuries, both recovered and
participated fully in fall camp. Unfortunately,
sophomore Cory Yriarte, a seeming lock at left guard, appears to be out for the
season with a knee injury sustained during a scrimmage.
Not only does this line lose his experience at guard, they also lose a
It is imperative
that Coach Huff establish a consistent starting lineup this season.
The nuances and assignments of each position are so different that as a
whole, the line will suffer with a musical chairs approach.
Would-be starters must pull ahead and secure their spots in order to
build cohesion and fully perform to their potential.
Another key to success is the establishment of a successful run game.
This hinges upon the line's ability to open up holes, create lanes, and
maintain them long enough for a running back corps loaded with talent to get
downfield. Running backs have to be
able to bust through that first level of defense successfully and take it to the
linebackers and defensive backs. Fortunately,
documented bulk has been added to many of the linemen in the off season with
some players adding as much as 10-25 pounds at the start of fall camp.
This is a step in the right direction towards realizing the effectiveness
of this facet of the offense.
All starting spots
on the offensive line are up for grabs in fall camp.
Here's a look at how it should play out.
Center: At this point the only sure bet on the entire line is sophomore Thomas
Byrd (5-11, 284) at center. Byrd,
who made the Rimington Trophy watch list on August 20, started all 13 games last
season and continues a tradition of short, but effective centers.
What he lacks in size, he makes up for in keen intellect, and fast snap
and step ability. Should Byrd go
down with injury, look for freshman Bronson Durrant (6-3, 266) to take up the
Junior Kevin Sapien
(6-4, 286) should hold down the right guard position.
Sapien possesses great core strength and has the nasty disposition needed
to excel on the line. He played in
12 games last year, starting in 10. With
the loss of Yriarte, junior Will Lawrence (6-2, 291), a converted defensive
lineman, and freshman Joe Kellogg (6-2, 305) will battle for the other spot.
Lawrence, who only played one year of high school football, has been a
work in progress but brings experience from playing in three games last year on
the O-line. Sophomore Garrett Pendergast (6-4, 271) and freshmen Brenel Myers (6-2, 267) will also be looking
for playing time but will need to gain more weight before they see anything but
Tackles: Junior Matt Slater (6-4,
290) appears to be unchallenged at left tackle.
He has proven versatility, playing three different positions last year
during 13 games, six of which he started in.
In addition to good speed, punch strength, and the ability to swing out
as a lead blocker, he also can claim some of the best hair on the offensive
line. Sophomore Nate Potter (6-6,
295) and freshman Michael Ames (6-4, 281) are locked in a dead heat for right
tackle. With Kellen Moore being a
southpaw, the all-important assignment of protecting his blind side shifts from
left to right tackle. Potter has all
of the attributes and keys necessary to inherit the Colledge/Clady crown and
should reach 300+ pounds by the time he is an upperclassman.
His footwork and awareness, coupled with his handwork should keep most
pass rushers at bay. He is an
experienced tackle having played in 12 games last year, starting in eight.
As long as he can stay healthy - Potter has been plagued with shoulder
and knee issues - his potential is unlimited.
line is not yet built of big hogs but is on its way.
Depending on starting lineup, the average weight of the line should fall
somewhere in the mid to high 280's. Fortunately,
the top teams
The biggest lines
In analyzing this
pivotal set of positions, I recently was able to talk with a man whose
experience and insight are unparalleled: former guard, center, and tackle, Jeff
Jeff, you were part of a very young offensive line that evolved and
developed into, arguably,
We all didn't feel like it mattered if you were a freshman, sophomore,
junior, or senior. You go out, earned a starting position and should be
accountable for that spot and the team no matter what class you were in. You're
a starter for a reason, because your coaches and teammates have faith in your
capabilities and it is just a matter of going out there and doing your job at a
high level. For Pete [brother Pete Cavender], Tad [Miller], and myself; we
were just really hungry and wanting to prove that we belonged to be in the
starting five especially after sitting out the 2003 season red-shirting. Everyday
we were trying to push each other whether in the weight room, film room, or on
the practice field and I really don't think I would have had as much success
individually without both Pete and Tad.
also had great leadership, especially from Daryn Colledge, and that mixed in
with a very talented and energetic coaching staff helped to put the
pieces together in the puzzle for our success which translated into team
JV: A few starting players rotated in and out of the line through your years (Colledge, Clady, Dailey, etc.) but for the most part, the core remained the same: you, your brother, Andrew Woodruff, Tad Miller. At what point do you feel like you really gelled as a unit?
is key with any offensive line and we learned how to do that on the practice
field. You learn different looks from the defense from film work or the
practice field and you have to make quick adjustments on the line and you can't
keep that a secret from the other O-lineman. To gel as an offensive line,
repetitions are the only real way to get comfortable with the guys you're
playing next to and it definitely takes some time to get that done.
There are a lot of momentum shifts in a game but you have to learn how to
keep on top when you have it going your way, and when the defense has the
momentum, it is the responsibility of the offensive line to take back control of
the game with establishing the run game which will also lead to opening up some
gaps in the secondary for some play-action
The offensive-line is the only spot on a football team where it takes all five guys working together to get the job done. Four guys could have done their job, but that one other player's missed assignment or block could result in a negative play.
JV: Shifting gears, what was your analysis of last year's O-line? Were there any players that stood out in your mind?
year's offensive line really lacked game-time experience going into the season,
outside of Woody, and there is no truer experience than game experience. You
can practice at full speed but it will never be like it is in a game.
know my last summer in
The current O-line developed into very good pass blockers however
the run blocking was not as efficient. What
will this squad need to do to get the run game going?
be successful running the rock, you have to be confident. The run game is
a mentality that you know you are going to dominate your defender off of the
line of scrimmage for the entire game--you have to have a swagger about yourself
to be a great run blocking o-line. Scott Huff, being one of the best
offensive lineman to come through Boise State - which is why he is a great
coach; he played the game the right way and he teaches it the right way. You
put on game film of Huff in his playing days and he is playing exactly like I am
talking about. Playing mean and nasty - the O-line way. As long as
the O-line can gain confidence in their capabilities, it will translate into
bigger numbers on the ground for this year's offense.
JV: While not tipping the scale, the current O-line has still been noted as being very athletic. Is that enough? At some point does athletic only go so far and you just need some bulk and 290 and 300 pound linemen?
play in Boise State's system, you have to be an athletic lineman. It
requires a lot of blocking out in space and blocking on the second and third
levels. That being said, athleticism will only get you so far and can
limit you, especially when facing schools with bigger defenses like
The offensive line
still poses the greatest unanswered question on this year's team.
It is a question that will be answered September 3 as Bronco fans cross
their fingers and hope for a resounding return to O-line dominance.