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Wildcat offensive line looks to answer questions

Piedmont’s offensive line comes into this season as one of the team’s biggest question marks, but coaches say they are confident this group of guys will be able to help the Wildcats succeed.

One of the Wildcats’ biggest question marks going into the 2011 season is how the offensive line will adapt to a new offensive scheme.

At times last season, the line wasn’t able to give much time to the quarterback as he tried to get the ball down the field. With more of an emphasis being put on the passing game, the line will be called upon even more this season.

“What we’re doing (this year) is different enough, that there has been a learning curve for those guys,” Coach Craig Church said. “They’re picking it up fairly quickly, though. I definitely think (the offensive line) has progressed as fast as any. Coach (Justin) Jackson does a great job with them.”

Church said that the Kingfisher scrimmages went a long way towards the line figuring things out.  There are a lot of concepts that a coach can tell a player about that they won’t really get until someone in another jersey is coming at them.

“At the Kingfisher camp, we didn’t look good inside,” Church said. “But a light came on, I definitely saw them start to play much better as that day went on.”

Lane Denwalt played center for the Wildcats last season, but is making the move to left tackle. Jacob Harris looks to start at guard, and is described as a steady and hard worker by his coaches. Hunter Winkle has been playing at both guard and tackle. Hunter Amos has been pegged as this year’s center and while undersized, has been praised for being steady and having good feet. The right tackle position is still being figured out, but a number of players have been working out there.

“Depth has been our biggest issue,” Church said. “Depth has a bigger impact on the line than anywhere else. We’re deeper at the skill positions, but a lot of schools this size are like that. There just are not a lot of big kids. It’s similar to my experience in 6A (at Stillwater), but you could argue that for 4A, we’re small.”

Church explained that the line has shifted to a zone blocking scheme, where the linemen block whoever comes into their ‘zone’ and don’t pick who they will block before the snap. Church said the scheme was introduced in the ‘60s to help smaller schools and the short passing game. Players try to get the ball out faster, so the linemen don’t have to engage with the defenders for extended periods of time.

“I think that this scheme is playing into what we want to do well,” Church said. “It will allow them to be athletes and use their ability and the defender’s momentum against them. Then, it’s all up to the back to make the correct read.”

The general idea of the hurry-up offense the Wildcats will use this season is designed to keep the flow of the game in Piedmont’s favor. The scheme will spread out defenses, which should limit the number of interior pass rushers, and get the ball into space quickly. The hurry-up doesn’t mean the team just runs to the line and snaps the ball either, it allows a team to get set and then rest when needed. By getting to the line quickly, it forces the opposing team to keep their players in or risk penalty. That’s a good spot for any driving offense to be.

“Honestly, there is no magic bullet to (building stamina),” Church said. “The last things we want to do is let kids think that being thin at a position is an out. Conditioning has been a major part of our summer pride and the kids are buying into it. We have a lot of kids playing both ways, but a lot of schools have to do the same thing, so it’s not an out.”

The thing about the offensive line is that no one ever notices their hard work until something goes wrong. A quarterback getting sacked always draws more attention than the many times the line gives him enough time to make a completion. Like the rest of the squad, there are going to be some growing pains this season. However, the line is picking up the system quickly and hope to turn the question mark into an exclamation point.

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