Wyoming football: O-line looks to dispel question marks

2014-08-19T15:14:00Z 2014-08-20T14:26:09Z Wyoming football: O-line looks to dispel question marksMIKE VOREL Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
August 19, 2014 3:14 pm  • 

Experience comes in many forms.

Game experience, for example, is extremely valuable -- and recognizably unbalanced -- along Wyoming's offensive line. Junior offensive tackle Jake Jones, for example, has started 24 games in his two-year career.

The other six players in Wyoming's rotation, by comparison, have started 23 career games -- total.

But while having played meaningful collegiate minutes does lend an advantage, that impact is diminished when considering that the snaps came in a wildly different offensive scheme.

In Wyoming's new pro-style offense, Jones may as well be a newcomer all over again.

“Game experience is critical, but it’s also critical to understand the concept of everything that we’re doing here, too," Wyoming offensive line coach Scott Fuchs said. "Every play has a concept to it. Where is the ball going? What’s the action? How does all that work? They need to understand that in order to be more efficient in how they’re doing stuff.

"This isn’t ‘Mindlessly go hit Player A and Player B.’ With understanding the concepts, we’ve made leaps and bounds towards that this fall.”

With less than two weeks separating Wyoming and its season opener against Montana, Fuchs said a starting rotation has yet to be set in stone. Even so, he's comfortable with the idea of seven Cowboys playing: Jones, left tackles Nathan Leddige and Austin Traphagan, left guards Chase Roullier and Sam Hardy, center Rafe Kiely and right tackle Connor Rains.

Ask those players, and the mental progression between spring and fall has been seismic.

“It was just a few months ago where we didn’t really know what we were doing," Jones said. "We were looking around, a little confused. Coach [Fuchs] has done a great job of preparing us and teaching us different things about the offense.

"I even know more about defense than I ever thought there was to know. So there has been a ton of progress made.”

Still, it's hard to argue that there's a more troubling, unsettled position group than the offensive line. The unit has made progress, but will it be enough?

Can all of that youth step up and be counted on?

With Leddige finally returning on Monday after missing significant time with a concussion, will the line be able to develop the rapport it needs to move and demolish as one?

And are the big boys up front really big enough? Of the seven contributors, only two -- Kiely and Rains -- weigh in at more than 300 pounds. The group's average weight is a lean 294 pounds.

If you ask Fuchs, however, it's not the weight that counts, but rather, how you use it.

“Much like the linebackers coach, I would much rather have athletes," he said. "Anybody who can move very well can do this offense well. I’m a lot more into that. In the past at North Dakota State, we’ve had some bigger guys. But athletic guys are really what makes this whole thing click.”

Starting Aug. 30, Wyoming's offensive line will play a massive role in determining whether the Cowboys' offense clicks, or stalls. Without protection, redshirt senior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard can't roll through his progressions and pick apart opposing defenses.

And without holes, Wyoming's slew of talented running backs are more like skilled painters that lack a brush.

Less than two weeks out, Fuchs is cautiously optimistic. Competition has been established at multiple positions, and the linemen have managed to steadily improve in each practice along the way.

But where there's improvement, there's also concern.

“To make this offense go, that’s one of those things where you have to be on-point and be assignment-conscious and be physical," Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl said of his offensive line after Monday's morning practice. "We’re not there yet, and that’s more of a concern than we’d like.”

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