Offensive Linemen Looking to Prove Critics Wrong

Now that Spring Practice is half over, how are the most talked about players of spring progressing?

Matt McCutchan certainly knows about intense situations.

The transfer from the United States Naval Academy has seen more than his fair share of pressure and agony while at Annapolis, Maryland.

Little did McCutchan know two years removed from service, it is that intangible that could very well be the difference between a possible bowl season for the Cats and another disappointing season.

That's because he is the leader of an offensive line that will desperately need a role model next season. McCutchan, who is slated for the starting center position next year, will need to anchor a group that has come under intense pressure since the departure of last season's senior class.

The former Midshipman has been a consistent blocker this spring and has been up to the task in leading a unit that struggled mightily last season to adjust to Ron Hudson's running scheme.

Standing along side McCutchan on the field of battle is a host of linemen that will be called upon to improve markedly between the spring and the fall. Jason Rollins, Hayden Lane, Matt Huff, and Michael Aitcheson are all currently running first team this spring, with Seniors-to-be Huff and Rollins starting at the guard positions.

The first team has excelled this spring, improving each week. Coach Paul Dunn has preached the importance in consistency and so far, his kids have responded.

"We are improving," Dunn said. "That's perhaps the most important thing."

The battle to back-up the senior guards has been anything but spectacular.

Trai Williams has had an average spring to this point, but will provide depth at the guard spot next season after seeing spot work in goal-line situations last fall. He had pushed Matt Huff at the beginning of spring, but has struggled in recent weeks since Huff's return to practice full-time. James Ferguson, a red-shirt freshmen walk-on, is very undersized for his spot, but he has excellent foot work and speed for his weight. He seems to get good leverage on his blocks, but is struggling to move off his blocks and read incoming linebackers. Of the backups, Joe Brady has seen a lot of improvement in his game, as he has improved on his footwork and technique throughout the spring. Brady could be the most improved offensive linemen of the spring, continuing to push for some playing time this fall. Cody Morehead stepped in Wednesday the 14th and ran first team all day for a sick Jason Rollins without any drop-off in line performance. Of the offensive line, it is these guards that have got the most to prove over the summer.

The tackle position looks to be the deepest part of the offensive line.

Hayden Lane appears to have locked down his position in the lineup and Mike Aitcheson looks better with each passing practice. You can see just how hard Hayden has worked this off-season and has graded out consistently at the top of the pack of linemen this spring. Among the backups, Eric Klope is the most attractive offensive line prospect at 6'8" and more than 320 pounds. Klope's problem has never been his desire to become a legitimate professional prospect; it is his lack of football knowledge and moving off his block to pick up a linebacker on a blitz that hinder his prospects for playing time this coming season. The changes in blocking schemes have been a struggle for our second teamers to pick up, and no one more then Eric. Patrick Daly, the other backup tackle, continues to progress nicely. Daly's footwork has been suspect at times and if he can overcome his lack of lateral movement could become an excellent future prospect. Only a red shirt freshman, Daly, like Klope, could mature into something special in the future.

At the center spot, the Cats have a nice group competing with Matt McCutchan in Travis Slaydon and Casey Shumate. Shumate's future seems to be on special teams, while Slaydon's future has been marred by his struggles with pass protecting. Slaydon gets very good line push with his powerful legs, but struggles to maintain blocks and stay with the play. As a red shirt sophomore, he has plenty of opportunity ahead of him in the future.

Injury Report

So far this spring, the offensive line has been relatively healthy. Jason Rollins missed practice on Wednesday because he fell victim to the virus like Alexis Bwenge had on Monday. He should be back to practice on Friday or Saturday. Matt Huff has returned and looks to be approaching 100 percent to this point.

Click here for pics

AllWildcats Top Stories