Spring Football Report: Offensive Line
The offensive line returns five players with starting experience after an improved season
Published: Sunday, April 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
One season into head coach Jeff Quinn’s tenure, he started a mission: to get bigger, stronger, and better in the trenches.
One season later, as junior running back Branden Oliver broke the Bulls’ single-season rushing record with 1,395 yards, it became clear that significant progress had been made. Now the squad wants more.
Buffalo will have six players competing for the five offensive line slots. Seniors Gokhan Ozkan and Graham Whinery along with sophomore Andre Davis started all 12 games for the Bulls last season and will return this year. Junior Jasen Carlson started four games and sophomore Dillion Guy started six as well. That group adds Delaware State transfer, redshirt sophomore Trevor Sales, to the mix.
Behind the group of returning players, the Bulls averaged almost 70 total yards more than they did in the 2010 campaign. The biggest gain was on the ground, with over 40 more rushing yards per game than two seasons ago.
“I really didn’t like the way they competed in 2010, that was not what I expected out of that group,” Quinn said. “When you think about good football teams you’ve gotta have a good group of offensive linemen that are working together, training together, care about one another, and understand the responsibilities that each of them have in terms of making it one cohesive group.”
The amount of experience coming back this year will help the widely inexperienced offense. The line has already proved that it is capable of giving Oliver the time he needs to make plays.
Quinn expressed how important game situation experience is for linemen. When in the trenches, the linemen need to be thinking as one unit.
“That experience is so invaluable when you think about it,” Quinn said. “They’ve been in games, they’ve played in live game situations, they’ve played through adverse situations, being able to communicate, adjust to different situations, and different defenses that we face.”
Oliver is excited that the team only lost one regular offensive lineman going into this season. He knows how important it is to have a line in front him that works as hard as he does if he wants to continue his success. Oliver makes sure to show the group how appreciative he is of their work – usually in the form of chicken wings.
“It’s always great having a bond with your offensive line,” Oliver said. “They do the dirty work for you, they’re the reason you break records and things like that. So I always treat them when I got the money.”
The stats for the offensive line are often overlooked. Many people look at the success of the offense as a whole. The offensive line was an integral part of Oliver’s record-breaking performance and looks to those accomplishments to judge its results on the field.
“That’s one thing we talk about every day when we get into the meeting room,” Ozkan said. “That’s something we were very proud of last year but this is a whole new year and we are looking forward to breaking that record again.”
The relationship between the running back and the offensive line is just as important as the chemistry among the line itself.
Carlson expressed how important trust is between Oliver and the line. The whole group needs to be in sync if the running back can use the space the line creates for him. The camaraderie is important because no one wants to let any of the other players down.
“Bo has inspired them,” Quinn said. “Bo is a hard working guy and he expects everybody to give 100 percent everyday. Bo’s not a big talker but his actions speak louder than his words. He’s just a tremendous competitor and I think those guys recognize that. They say ‘geeze I better get after it or he’s gonna run me over before he runs over a defensive guy.’”
Quinn has been the offensive line coach at different schools for over 20 years. His experience with the O-line has helped the group grow because he is able to make slight adjustments that can have huge, positive effects on the line.
“It’s amazing to have that kind of experience coming [in],” Ozkan said. “Coach Quinn with the knowledge that he has, we can just feed off of him. When he talks to us, anything he says it just sticks to us like glue.”
Because of Quinn’s experience with offensive lines in the past, he is often tougher on them than other players on the team and Whinery knows that he needs to be.
“Oh yeah, I’d say so because he wants us to be the leaders on this team,” Whinery said. “The start of the team is with the offensive and defensive linemen. He definitely comes to us for leadership, and also just to get the offense rolling.”
The one potential problem could be that Whinery is working through an injury. He has been participating in drills with the coaches, but is not yet ready for live situations. Quinn said that he will be ready in time for fall camp.
The Bulls big question mark this season will be who takes over for Chazz Anderson at the quarterback position. But, Andre Davis made it clear that whoever takes will be well protected.
“I don’t really care who the quarterback is,” Andre Davis said. “I know I’ll do whatever I can to protect him, do my job for [the team].”