Montana State’s veteran offensive line again expected to play critical role

Montana State offensive linemen Zach Redd and Connor Wood chat during spring practice Saturday at Bobcat Stadium.

Following substantial strides throughout his career, Lewis Kidd is a pillar of consistency for Montana State.

Kidd is one of four returning starters on MSU’s offensive line, all with a wealth of experience. Still, when they practice alongside the Bobcats’ younger players in their position group, they feel those freshmen and sophomores are much more skilled and knowledgeable than they were at that point in their careers.

The Bobcats are in their second week of spring practices after not playing in 2020. With standout returners and promising youth, MSU expects to lean on its offensive line once again.

“We need to be a nickel and not five pennies,” MSU offensive line coach Brian Armstrong said. “It’s the same value of money, but the offensive line is a little bit different deal. There’s a lot of power in knowing what the guy to the left of you and the guy to the right of you is thinking, so to develop that bond and consistency within the group is the biggest thing.”

In 2019, the Bobcats’ offensive line paved the way for a flourishing rushing attack. MSU led the Big Sky and was eighth in the nation with 258.1 rushing yards per outing.

The Bobcats set a single-season program record with 3,871 yards on the ground. MSU’s offensive line also tied a Big Sky-best with 14 sacks allowed in 2019.

New MSU head coach Brent Vigen has repeatedly emphasized the team’s identity won’t change. Vigen wants the Bobcats to be the most physical team no matter who they play in order to wear opponents out by the end of games.

While Vigen has worked with NFL-level quarterbacks in his college coaching career, his schemes have relied on running the ball. Therefore, Vigen expects the Bobcats to depend on the production of their O-line.

“I do think offensively that’s our strength, certainly in experience but also the quality of those players,” Vigen said. “It’s apparent we have an intelligent group, a group that can communicate, but an athletic group too.

“I do think it’s a group we can lean on. In this offense, that’s where it starts. You can mask things up in different ways, but if you’re good up front, you have a chance to be really good across the board.”

Kidd, who has played guard in the past, is MSU’s starting right tackle for now, according to Armstrong. The 6-foot-6, 311-pound senior was second-team all-conference as a junior and has started 33 straight games in his career.

Upcoming senior Taylor Tuiasosopo, at 6-4, 300 pounds, was a third-team all-Big Sky guard in 2019, but Armstrong suggested he could play center.

Connor Wood, a 6-5, 302-pound junior, might have been an all-conference tackle as well in 2019 if an injury hadn’t held him out of four of MSU’s last six games. Armstrong said he’s been moved over to left guard.

Zach Redd, a 6-1, 295-pound junior, was MSU’s primary starter at center in 2019. Armstrong suggested he’s practiced more at guard recently, another spot Redd has played at depending on who was available.

“The nice thing is we have a lot of guys who have experience and have started games for us,” Kidd said. “I’ve been lucky to be on some O-lines who have had some pretty good chemistry in the last three or four years.”

Jake Sessions and Denver Krone both started games for the Bobcats in 2019 and could have returned. However, Armstrong said both of them decided to move on to the next phases of their lives.

While Armstrong will miss them being on the team, he’s eager to see the potential of younger players.

Dylan Porter, a 6-5, 302-pound junior, played three games in 2019 but is competing for a starting position. Cole Sain, a 6-4, 285-pound sophomore transfer, can play either center or guard and is “going to be a real good player for us,” Armstrong said.

Then freshmen T.J. Session (6-4, 282 pounds) and Jacob Kettels (6-4, 287 pounds) also appear capable of earning early playing time, Armstrong added.

Armstrong joked that every coach in the country wants a team “to get old and stay old.” A crucial part of that is ensuring underclassmen develop and receive playing time early on. Armstrong believes the younger MSU offensive linemen have already made strides this spring.

“We’ve got some older guys,” Armstrong said, “and it’s great at practice and in meetings to hear them coaching each other, to hear them coach the younger guys and taking some ownership in their role and pride in their position and bringing the younger guys along, which I think is as critical as anything.”