O-Line the Key

There is no question, the key to a successful season for the University of Miami rides on the success of the offensive line.

In UM's three losses during 2005, the offensive line allowed 20 of the 36 sacks that they surrendered the entire season—an average of nearly seven sacks per loss.

Having lost four starters from the 2005 offensive line, UM's line will be tremendously inexperienced. Center Anthony Wollschlager, the lone returning starter believes however that UM's inexperienced could be a positive.

"I think a big thing with this year's offensive line is that we have a lot of young guys who are hungry," Wollschlager said. "We have a lot of young guys who want to prove themselves. Last year, center was a big question mark. We had four seniors and I took that personally. I didn't want to be the weak link of the team."

One of the new starters to the line is highly touted left tackle Reggie Youngblood. At 6-3, 305, Youngblood is more imposing in person than his listed physical attributes might make you think. Youngblood has freakishly long arms and quickness.

"We are going to let our play do the talking on the field because we worked so hard in the offseason," Youngblood said. "At the end of spring we started working together and going over protections. You have got to play this game with a chip on your shoulder. If you don't, then you shouldn't play."

In 2005, Florida State swarmed through UM's porous offensive line, tallying nine sacks for the game. Wollschlager said he and his teammates recently watched video of the game.

"We watched the game the other day and it burns to watch it again," Wollschlager said. "It is hard to get over. You just go, man, nine sacks—that's bad. I don't want that feeling again."

So why will the offensive line perform better in 2006? New offensive line coach Mario Cristobal has gained the respect and admiration of his players. Cristobal has been described by players as an intense coach, who does more teaching than in years past.

Also, a new offensive system has been put in at UM which requires getting the ball out of the quarterback's hand quicker. Opposing defensive lines will not have as much time to get to the quarterback this year.

"I think the scheme that we are running now on offense is helping them become a better offensive line," defensive tackle Kareem Brown said. "They have a lot of talent, but the just have to jell. They have to know each other's tendencies and they have to communicate."

However, a reason for concern along the line is right tackle. Projected starter Tyrone Byrd injured his knee during fall camp and is just getting back to practicing with the team.

Coaches have tried many players at the tackle spot to find a replacement for Byrd and have appeared to have settled on Jason Fox, a true freshman. Fox appears to be in serious contention for a starting position versus FSU.

"A true freshman starting the first game anywhere is pretty spectacular," Wollschlager said. "That kid really has what it takes. He really does have a good football sense. He knows the offense very well. He is out there making calls and he is doing his thing. Right now, he is the best right tackle that we have." Though FSU lost seven starters on defense from last year's stellar group, UM knows that very little will change. The ‘Noles will still have fast and explosive athletes all over the field.

UM realized in 2005 how important the unsung players in the trenches are to a successful season. Going up against FSU in the first game, Miami will know immediately what type of offensive line they will have in 2006.

"It is what up front that counts," Coach Coker said. "A quarterback cannot do it by himself. The offensive line is going to be paramount; not only in protecting the quarterback, but also in the running game."

David Lake can be reached at lake@canestime.com

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