When spring practice began on the Hill on March 21, there were plenty of storylines to follow — a wide-open quarterback race, a loaded backfield, flashy athletes on the perimeter, a few new coaches and an intriguing defensive unit.
But one storyline that has received little attention is the offensive line. The Hilltoppers return all five starters from a season ago and will be relied on heavily for Head Coach Jeff Brohm’s offense to remain at a high level.
“I think the line’s done really well. Coach Brohm gave us the compliments during the scrimmage,” rising redshirt senior left tackle Forrest Lamp said. “We all came back from last year — we have about eight guys who’ve played together before. We’ve all molded together well for the past couple years and we know what we’re doing.”
The starting offensive line from a year ago looked like this: Lamp at left tackle, rising redshirt junior Brandon Ray at left guard, rising redshirt senior Max Halpin at center, rising redshirt sophomore Dennis Edwards at right guard and rising redshirt senior Darrell Williams Jr. at right tackle.
Redshirt senior Joe Manley also made two starts last year as well.
The one staple amongst the offensive line from a year ago that will not be returning next season is offensive line coach Neil Callaway. Callaway will be joining former offensive coordinator Tyson Helton at USC to the same position.
Brohm replaced Callaway with Dale Williams who worked with Brohm in 2009 at FAU. Williams has worked as head and assistant coach at Lake Worth High School and Olympic Heights High since 2012.
The main focus of this year’s offensive line in spring practice has been to get the younger linemen in shape and build them up to the standard that Callaway did.
Many of the younger guys have been improving like redshirt freshman Miles Pate, redshirt junior Jimmie Simms and redshirt sophomore Scott Liebert.
Ray also added that redshirt sophomore Dennis Edwards, redshirt freshman Tyler Camp and redshirt freshman R.J. Scaife to that list of improving linemen and ready to get them involved in the system.
“Coach Brohm talks about it every day; we have a veteran o-line,” Ray said. “We’re just helping to get the younger guys in the playbooks and perfecting their crafts and techniques.”
Last season’s unit was dependable, but this season’s line is expected to be improved and it will need to be.
The big men struggled a bit in battles with SEC foes Vanderbilt and LSU, and expectedly so, but the toughest task comes when WKU travels to Tuscaloosa in the fall to take on arguably the best defensive line in the country in the University of Alabama.
Former quarterback Brandon Doughty is arguably the reason that the offensive line is so crucial to this offense’s success.
His departure has left a huge void in offensive production, and the linemen will be influential in keeping the rhythm going.
Returning at tailback is redshirt sophomore D’Andre Ferby, and redshirt seniors Anthony “Ace” Wales and Leon Allen who will work alongside senior wide receiver Taywan Taylor, senior Nicholas Norris and junior Nacarius Fant to keep the offensive rhythm going as well.
With the quarterback situation likely to remain a question until around opening weekend, the linemen are working to build good chemistry with the men they are obligated to protect.
“I don’t get to watch [the quarterbacks] much, but they’ve been doing well as far as the leadership stuff goes,” Lamp said. “They’re getting more comfortable. Obviously Brandon [Doughty] was here for two or three years and it’s hard for those guys to step in and be as good of a leader as he was, but they’re coming along and being vocal. They’re doing well.”
Assuming good health, the starting offensive front from last year’s Miami Beach Bowl championship squad will trot out as onto Jimmy Feix Field on Sept. 3 against Rice University.