O-Line Has Depth, Competition

The Hurricanes seem to have a good amount of depth and competition going on up front. Read on to find out why John Rochford got the nod, what the depth looks like, and how the coaches plan to utilize different guys there...

One of the most talked about positions on the UM football this offseason has been the offensive line. The Hurricanes have struggled finding success at the position in recent years. Jeff Stoutland is the third line coach at the school in as many years.

If you look at what the Hurricanes bring to the table, it actually gives reason for Canes fans to get excited. The leaders are Jason Fox at left tackle and Derrick Morse at guard. Fox was tremendous as a true freshman last season and is now believed to be much better this time around. Morse has drawn constant praise from coaches this month.

One of the surprises in the starting lineup is senior John Rochford getting the nod at center over A.J. Trump and Morse. Head coach Randy Shannon talked about the senior center.

"Rochford has been practicing well," Shannon said. "We're excited about the way he runs around and hits people and blocks people. The best guy's gonna play. Rochford has never played center but now he's getting his opportunity."

Rochford, 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, doesn't have much experience playing on the offensive line. While he was recruited as an offensive lineman out of New Jersey a few years ago, most of his playing time has taken place on special teams. He was an H-Back last season.

"One thing you gotta do in training camp is get ready for the season," Shannon said. "All the what ifs that you're gonna do, make sure you do them in camp. We made sure Rochford got snaps in two-a-days. We got a guy who has some experience (now)."

Rochford was not only competing with A.J. Trump for the starting job but also Morse since the coaches tried using him there at times throughout fall camp. Morse playing center would have meant true freshman Orlando Franklin would've started at guard. Instead, he's competing with senior Andrew Bain for playing time.

"It was a unique position because he (Franklin) was not supposed to be the starter when camp started, but that is what I mean about competition," Shannon said. "Bain had two choices -- either keep going and get his position back or take the wrong approach and be negative. He stepped up, kept pushing and kept fighting. The same happened with (Reggie) Youngblood. He is now starting on a three-man rotation (at tackle). The more we can create on this football team a sense of urgency, (the more you can) develop depth all the time."

Franklin and tackle Chris Rutledge also spent time with the first unit at various times throughout fall camp. Expect to see them on the field a lot, even though they're not listed as starters.

"Once you develop a package for a specific kid, he'll expect it," he said. "That's the thing we're doing -- we're trying to find packages for everyone to perform. If we have Youngblood, Fox, and Rutledge -- all three of them, hands down, can play at anytime and start at tackle."

Shannon wants to make sure his offensive linemen are fresh instead of being asked to play the length of a game.

"Most games now are 80 plays," he said. "If each one can get about 50 plays, they'll wear other teams down. Typically for offensive and defensive linemen, if some have to go 80 plays (in a game), 40 of them won't be working."

From left to right, the starting O-Line for Saturday will be Fox, Bain, Rochford, Morse, and Youngblood. Backing them up will be Rutledge, Franklin, Trump, Joel Figueroa, and Cyrim Wimbs.

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