Spring review: offensive line

There was a lot of focus placed on the development of the offensive line over spring camp. Now that camp has wrapped up, we can review some of the challenges the staff had and just how far the players progressed.

There were a couple of philosophical ideals the offensive staff wanted to develop over spring camp, while at the same time finding the best players to implement it.

"When you talk about the spirit and the will of the offensive line, I think the foundation is in place," Coach Tujague said. "Now you get to work on the other things to build upon that foundation, but you can't forget about the spirit and the will of the whole thing. For me, I'm impressed because I thought that it would take longer to establish that foundation."

But what was that foundation the coaches wanted to establish? During spring camp, Coach Tujague and Coach Anae worked very hard to develop a mindset among the players. Establishing a cultural mindset was the foundation by which the coaches would build the offense upon.

"From the first day when we first got out on the field for spring camp it was about establishing culture," said Coach Tujague. "We're getting close and there is light at the end of the tunnel.

"When you start having that culture there and every guy has the same mentality, work ethic, and be on the same page as far as a common goal, it is fun to watch. It's been fun to watch these guys come out every day and try and reach the expectations we have for them. I've been very impressed with their will and effort to match our ideals."

Once the players bought into the standards of the new culture, Coach Anae's philosophy of "go fast and go hard" could then be more easily implemented. It might seem like a simple philosophy, but in reality it wasn't as easy as it seemed, especially for those who weigh upwards of 300 pounds.

"The most important thing to me is that we are in shape so we can finish drives," Tujague said. "We would start out strong and play physical, but then towards the end it was more like we were just hanging on at times and we can't do that. We have to play at the same level from the first play to the last."

At first it was about establishing the tempo, and then getting the offensive line to rise up and perform at that tempo on a consistent basis.

"From the first day of camp to the last day, there is no doubt that there has been tremendous progress," said Coach Tujague. "I know I've said this before, but it's a matter of stealing the will out of your opponent. We're trying to help mold these kids so that's exactly what they do. It's going to take some time but we'll get there because the level of execution has to be sustained at a higher level. We'll get there."

At this point the level of execution isn't quite as consistent as it needs to be, but, as Coach Tujague mentioned, there will be a time when the offensive line reaches that level of execution. It will be up to the linemen to get themselves in better condition over the summer, so that when fall camp rolls around they'll be able to sustain the high tempo.

"Now they have to remember all that they've accomplished at the end of spring camp," Coach Tujague said. "They have to know that the only way they're going to move forward is to remember the progress of spring and keep moving forward over the summer. To me that's huge and will determine where we're at come fall camp."

So the linemen still has some work to do in that category, but what about their overall chemistry?

"I was excited about how things were going with the overall chemistry of the line," said Coach Tujague. "We did a much better job of picking up the blitzes as spring camp progressed. We got better at that but we still have a long ways to go. I feel we did okay with that and feel the chemistry got better and better. If you can pick up 100 percent of the blitzes, it demoralizes a defense, and our defense is pretty good."

With the offensive line getting starting left tackle Ryker Mathews back for fall camp, there will be additional talent and experience to add to the progress that has been made. When it comes to the chemistry between the line and running backs, there comes a time when scheme and personnel familiarity diverge into a single formidable unit. That point hasn't quite been reached just yet.

"I don't think we're at that point yet quite yet but we're getting there," said Coach Tujague. "I don't even know if our guys up front have any idea of who's behind them half the time because we're going so fast, but I think our running backs know who's in front of them and are learning to run based on their capabilities. It should all be one head. The offensive linemen and the running backs all have to be thinking the same thing."

"They have to be thinking the same thing in the pass and the run. I mean, the running backs at times are one of us, and, you know, we'd like to think we're one of them. It's huge to have that all be on the same page, and this is what we're working towards and made great strides in during spring camp. Having the chemistry of the running backs and offensive line play as one is huge for us in all aspects of the run and passing game. Coach Atuaia is doing a great job in helping the running backs understand their assignments and run hard."

Coach Tujague has a vision of what it will look like once the two units converge into one.

"It's going to look like huge halogen lights barreling through a train tunnel," said Coach Tujague with a serious smile on his face. "That's what it's going to look like, and we're not going to stop until that's exactly what it is. We're not going to stop at anything short of that and we're going to keep pushing. It's very humbling to be around the type of offensive minds that I'm around and be able to add this and add that to what we're trying to do. It's going to be just a freight train barreling down the field. It's going to be an old-school runaway freight train with a steel cow-pusher on the front with bright halogen lights blaring on the front through a tunnel. That's what we're looking for."

The coaches will have to now rely on the efforts of the players to continue advancing their craft over summer. To help ensure that the players stay focused and strive to achieve what is expected of them, a summer program has been outlined to guide them.

"Absolutely, we'll have things put in place for the guys over summer," said Tujague. "Coach Mendenhall has done a great job over the past few years in making sure they know what they need to do. I think it's very important that we pick it up. It can't be the way it's been, and there are things that will be put in place to make sure that we're moving forward with progress.

"Their leadership will take them and they'll know exactly what they'll need to do over the summer to continue the progress that was made over spring camp. They're going to know exactly what they need to do, how hard they need to do it and how frequent they need to do it. I think we'll be good."

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