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Offensive line looks to improve on protection

Published: Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 15:04

offensiveline.04202011

THE AGGIE OFFENSIVE LINE will be working on protecting the quarter back and ball carriers better than they have in the past two seasons. The spring game is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Merlin Olsen Field at Romney Stadium. STERLING BOIN photo

    A football game is won or lost at the line of scrimmage. Even a Heisman winning quarterback is unable to change a game if opposing linebackers get to him before he makes a play. Running backs are gobbled up by defensive tackles when offensive linemen miss their blocks.

    As with every football team, line play will be key for the success of the Utah State football team this fall. USU offensive line coach T.J. Woods said he is excited for the upcoming 2011 season.

    "We've got three interior linemen who are returning starters for us who have a lot of quality experience under their belt," Woods said. "I would say that all three of the interior guys coming back are the leaders certainly in our group."

    Sophomore Tyler Larsen is projected to anchor the line and start at center, flanked on either side by returning starter senior guards Philip Gapelu and Funaki Asisi.

    Sophomore Eric Schultz has switched positions from right tackle to left tackle. Stetson Tenney, a junior transfer from Eastern Arizona Junior College, will likely fill in the remaining tackle position.

    "We've got to develop some tackles and we're working our butt off to do that," Woods said. "We learn from the mistakes and we move on. I think it's good for us. We learn how to become an all-around offensive lineman."

    These projections are based on spring practice performance thus far and are subject to change; eight different linemen on the USU roster are new to the team and look to challenge for the starting positions.

    "I think spring ball has a little bit different feel around here now," Woods said. "There's a lot more competition and when you go good versus good, somebody's going to lose."

    Larsen said he thinks the competition for starting spots is great.

    "I love having that drive to do better," Larsen said. "The new guys coming up are definitely making us all work a lot harder. They're doing a great job, they're catching on quick. It just brings more and more competition every day."

    Sophomore Jamie Markosian, who is battling with Larsen for the center position, agreed.

    "Competition is what we talk about every day out here," Markosian said. "Every position has its battles within to see who the best guys are gonna be. Competition fuels us, it brings us in the right direction, and it helps us get better too."

    The Aggies will need to get better to keep defenders off of the quarterback. In the 2010 season, the line allowed 25 sacks. While this statistic is an improvement over the previous season of 32 sacks allowed, Woods said he is looking to help his players improve on that during the rest of Spring practices.

    "Last year pass protection was not close to where it needed to be," Woods said. "We gave up 25 sacks and we're looking to get that down and it starts in spring ball."

    Asisi said the entire line has high hopes for the upcoming season.

    "As a unit, as an offensive line, I think we're doing better," Asis said. "I think it will be a little bit of turnaround from next year, hopefully a complete 180, but we'll see. Hopefully we can pull something out."

    Despite challenges in the 2010 season, Asisi said as a whole the line is doing a lot better in the spring practices.

    "When everything's going wrong, things kind of come to (the offensive line)," Asisi said. "I think as long as we take charge and we step up, I think the rest of the team will step up. A lot of it rides on our shoulders, but I love it and I know the rest of the line loves it too."

    And what should Aggie fans expect in the 2011 season?

    "We're gonna get more touchdowns, be moving that ball," Larsen said. "You can't expect anything but greatness."

–tavin.stucki@aggiemail.usu.edu

 

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