Thursday, August 26, 2010

IU Football – Sizing Up The Offensive Line

You can talk all you want about the quality of Indiana receivers, the accuracy of quarterback Ben Chappell and the potential of running backs such as Darius Willis, but if the big guys up front struggle, the whole offense breaks down.

That would mean the season would come down to the defense. Given recent history, that is not the best of scenarios, although this unit might surprise people.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the offensive line. It is not a line that rates with the Big Ten’s best in reputation, but nobody wins games on reputation. You need size, strength, toughness, maturity and two-eyes-for-an-eye nastiness.

It starts with right tackle James Brewer, who looks big enough to scare a grizzly bear. He is listed at 6-8 and 335 pounds and he’s in his fifth season. He didn’t play much his first three years because of redshirting and injuries. Last year he started all 12 games and has shown enough improvement that a shot at the NFL is a distinct possibility.

Then there’s center Will Matte. He was one of the nation’s best freshman linemen last year (he only allowed one sack) and, at 6-2 and 295 pounds, has the athleticism to thrive at the position.

Cody Faulkner is another mountain-sized guy. He’s a 6-5, 315-pound redshirt senior. He was a right guard force as a sophomore, a banged-up reserve as a junior. He’s a little banged up again, but he needs to stay healthy to provide much needed maturity and physical play.

Justin Pagan is a 6-5, 332-pound junior left guard who was good enough to play as a true freshman. That is not a typo. On a program known for redshirting freshmen, at a position few first-year guys are physically mature enough to play, he played seven games and started the last five.

He started 11 games last season and allowed just one sack.

Finally there’s junior left tackle Andrew McDonald, who is 6-6 and 304 pounds. He’s played in 13 games over the last two seasons.

Toss in such guys as Jordan Marquette (6-3, 290), Chris Ahlfeld (6-1, 276), Pat McShane (6-5, 297) and that leads to the obvious question:

Where does IU find such big guys?

In truth, a lot of that size is a credit to the strength and conditioning staff and program led by Mark Wateska, as well as target recruiting. Coach Bill Lynch likes athletic linemen, and taller guys are fine.

Most of the linemen got plenty of work in last Saturday’s scrimmage, although Brewer and Matte didn’t get much work.

“At this point,” Lynch said, “they’ve earned starting positions.”

The coaches tried to give a lot of guys reps to develop depth in case a starter goes down during the season.

“Our guys do a great job of pass blocking,” Lynch said. “Our run game has been solid.

“We did a lot of moving around, but it’s hard to do (from now on). We wanted to get as many looks as we could. We wanted to give them some experience at different positions so if something happens and they have to pop out there and play, it’s not new to them.”

IU has enough offensive-line size, strength and athleticism to get the job done. If it does, and Chappell has enough time to pick apart opposing defenses, well, all that talk about this being a special season won’t be just talk.

For the record –- that season opens next Thursday against Towson.

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