Peek Inside Practice: The O-Line

Herd Insider's fourth look at Marshall football's spring practices breaks down the offensive line unit, led by coach Mark McHale. We spoke with McHale after practice on Wednesday, and got the lowdown on how good his offensive line will be in 2002, straight from the coach who knows.

"Where you make the team is in the off-season," McHale said. "And they did a great job in the off-season of obtaining their goals." According to McHale, those goals weren't necessarily on-the-field performance goals, either. The goals involved numerous things, from body weight to strength, 40-yard dash times, and bench press abilities.

Marshall's offensive line in 2002 is a mirror image of the 2001 unit. Only replacing one graduated senior (left guard Steve Content) means that QB Byron Leftwich will have plenty of time to orchestrate the offense in the backfield, just like he did in 2001.

The same top-notch offensive line returns in 2002. Only left guard Steve Content is gone from this 2001 unit, replaced by Luke Salmons.

Steve Sciullo returns in '02 at the left tackle spot, where he was an All-MAC pick in '01. The 6-6, 344 pound senior from Pittsburgh, PA will be a draft pick in the '03 NFL Draft for certain. He also makes a fine receiver, as witnessed by his reception on a tackle-eligible play during the 2001 MAC Championship loss at Toledo.

"This will be his fourth year starting," said McHale. "He's got a chance to get drafted pretty high in the NFL."

Stepping in for Content will be Luke Salmons. The 6-3, 295 pound junior left guard from Cottageville, WV doesn't arrive in '02 lacking any experience or talent. Salmons played almost 35 snaps in the GMAC Bowl win in December, gaining precious big-game experience that will pay of in the coming year, according to McHale. "Right now, he's probably doing the best of all of them," McHale said of Salmons' spring practices. "He's actually doing what I want him to do, the best." Salmons jumped over to the offensive line from the defensive side of the ball last summer, and gained 30 pounds in the process.

Jeff Edwards returns at center. The 6-4, 275 pounder from Kenova, WV returns after missing three games in '01 due to a neck injury at Buffalo. Edwards is ably backed up by Joey Stepp (6-2, 284), who didn't miss a beat while playing during Edwards' injury last year.

Steve Perretta, who was a JUCO transfer last year and immediately impressed the coaches enough to earn a starting right guard spot in '01, returns at that position for '02. The 6-2, 298 pound Perretta learned the MU offensive line schemes so quickly, and demonstrated so much physical talent off the bat, that McHale could not afford to just let him sit on the bench last year. Good move. "Steve's having a good spring," McHale summed up. Perretta also earned All-MAC honors in 2001.

At right tackle is Nate McPeek, a 6-5, 321 pound junior from Russell, KY. McPeek is the third MU offensive lineman to earn All-MAC honors in 2001, and the reason is simple: McPeek can flat-out keep just about any defender thrown at him away from the QB.

McHale has a pretty impressive group of backups just waiting for game time in 2002. In fact, McHale pointed out that the goal is to get as large a lead as possible this coming year, in hopes of getting actual game experience under the belts of those waiting in the wings. Paul Hardy (6-5, 300) and Dwayne Robinson (6-3, 316) are the backup left tackles; Ryan Baynes (6-3, 305) and Doug Gast (6-6, 284) are ready at the left guard spot; Joey Stepp is the aforementioned backup at center for Jeff Edwards; Ricardo Phillips (6-6, 290) is set as backup at the right guard position; and big Nate Griffin (6-7, 295) is McPeek's backup at the right tackle spot.

"Ryan (Baynes) will get after you," said McHale. "Ricardo (Phillips) has to get a little bit bigger, but he's got some experience. Paul (Hardy) got some experience last year. Nate Griffin is getting reps at both left tackle and right tackle. (Steven) Bobrowski is a walk-on center from New York who is really doing a great job."

In summing things up, McHale laid out the big picture: "We have some good, young, promising offensive linemen," McHale finished with. "There's a big drop off from the older guys to youth. We're hoping this year we can stiffen up on defense, score some points, and get these guys some playing time in there."

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