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Returning linemen to fill gaps in offense

August 23, 2001
Former offensive tackle Siitupe Peko prepares to snap the ball during the last season’s game against Missouri in Columbia, Mo. Peko filled in at center for the first two games of the 2000 season. MSU lost four starting linement last season, but head coach Bobby Williams said he is confident the returning linemen will fill the void.

With all the additions on offense for the MSU football team, it would seem like a no-brainer that the scorekeeper at Spartan Stadium will be very busy in the fall.

But subtractions in one key area of the offensive unit could lessen the impact of MSU’s gold mine at the skilled positions.

The Spartans lost four starting offensive linemen from last year’s squad, and it won’t do junior tailback T.J. Duckett, junior wide receiver Charles Rogers, or the quarterback duo of senior Ryan Van Dyke and sophomore Jeff Smoker any good if the offensive line can’t block or protect the quarterback.

Head coach Bobby Williams acknowledged the loss of so many starting linemen from last year’s team, but he says the returning linemen all got valuable game action last year and should fill the void.

“We have guys that have played,” he said. “We don’t have a line with no game experience.”

The Spartans lost Shaun Mason, Dave Sucura, Matt Bonito and Siitupe Peko to graduation.

Among the linemen who rotated among those four last year and who Williams expects to step up this year are junior Ulish Booker, sophomore Steve Stewart, junior Paul Harker and sophomore Joe Patrick.

“The only guy who doesn’t have any game experience is (freshman) William Whitticker and he’ll get that,” he said. “He’s very talented and he’s done a nice job. So I feel good about our offensive line.”

Junior center Brian Ottney, who is the lone returning starter on the unit, said the line has come together nicely this spring, something that is never an easy task with new linemen.

“You’ve got all these guys coming together who have never really played together as a group and that’s tough to come together like that and improve,” he said. “It takes awhile to learn how to play together as a group and to learn each other and the speed of the guy playing next to you.”

In addition to being the Spartans’ lone returning starter on the offensive line, Ottney arguably plays the most important position on the unit.

As a center, he is responsible for directing traffic on the line and making sure his linemates have their proper blocking assignments.

Ottney said given he is the team’s center and the only returning starter on the line, he knows he’ll have a big role as a leader on the team in 2001.

“Yeah, I do feel like there’s some responsibility on my shoulders and I’m ready to take it,” he said. “This is a great group of guys, I love playing with them and I’ll go to war with them any day of the week.”

Last year, the offensive line didn’t make it very easy on Smoker and Van Dyke, allowing 43 sacks, which was second highest in the Big Ten.

Van Dyke said with the play of the offensive line during spring practice, he now has a great sense of security when he drops back to pass.

“I think it’s one of the biggest plusses on our team right now,” he said. “They really worked on their aggressiveness and it’s pretty comfortable to be able to sit back in the pocket now and look downfield.”

Ottney said most observers will look at the offensive line as a weak point for 2001, but he says that won’t be the case.

“I think our offensive line is going to be one of our strengths,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, they’re going to look down at us, but at the end of the season, they’re going to look up at us and it’s going to be something people are talking about as a positive instead of a negative.”


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