Wednesday, December 8, 2021

O-line raising eyebrows

August 31, 2001

While MSU football fans wait to hear who head coach Bobby Williams names as starting quarterback for the season opener against Central Michigan Sept. 8, another group of starters will be named this weekend, too - the offensive line.

Offensive coordinator Morris Watts said he and Williams plan on naming all five line starters this weekend.

“We’re pretty close I’d say, by the weekend,” Watts said Tuesday. “Bobby and I talked about it today. We didn’t set a date, but the sooner, the better, because I think were getting closer to where we can do it.”

The tentative preseason depth chart has sophomore Steve Stewart at right tackle, freshman William Whitticker at right guard, sophomore Brian Ottney at center, junior Paul Harker at left guard and junior Ulish Booker at left tackle.

And there are three sophomore Joes that could also make a push for playing time - right guard Joe Brooks, left tackle Joe Tate and left guard Joe Patrick are on the heels of those at the top of the depth chart.

No matter who makes the line-up, many have already tagged the offensive line the team’s weakest link. Harker and Booker are the only upperclassmen, and Ottney is the only returning starter.

While Watts said the young players have played more than people realize, last season Stewart, Harker and Booker combined for only 218 minutes.

And while he said he understands the concern of the fans and media, the coaches are using the outside criticisms as motivation, Watts said.

“I don’t blame them,” he said. “If I’m an outsider, I’d be saying the same thing. The number one thing is that they know the staff doesn’t feel that way about them, and they don’t feel that way. Those two things alone are most important.

“It’s a challenge to them not only for the first game, but through the season to prove that we can play at this level. A lot of those guys have played a lot of snaps, so it’s not like they are stepping out on the field for the first time against Central Michigan.”

Even though most of the line will be starting for the first time, the blocking schemes have mostly remained the same - even with talks of experimenting with new formations.

“They don’t change a lot because that’s what gets you in trouble,” Watts said. “If all of a sudden you’re doing so many things, your five guys can’t master it. There’s some changes, we’re doing some things different ... But we don’t have a different blocking scheme for each group of guys that come in.”

Sophomore quarterback Jeff Smoker said he feels comfortable playing behind the line despite its lack of game-time experience.

And all this talk about the offensive line being the big question? He doesn’t want to hear it.

“That’s what a lot of people are pointing out, that they are kind of the weak link, since they are so young,” Smoker said. “I’m gonna have to disagree with that. They’ve been doing a great job so far of learning what to do.”

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