Football spring practice: Offensive linemen preparing to fill roster holes

Kent+State+football+players+go+through+drills+at+Dix+Stadium+on+April+8%2C+2013+during+the+forth+spring+practice.+Photo+by+Brian+Smith.

Kent State football players go through drills at Dix Stadium on April 8, 2013 during the forth spring practice. Photo by Brian Smith.

Tim Dorst

With three of Kent State’s starting offensive linemen from last season graduating, positions on the front line need to be filled before the Flashes take the field again for the 2013 season. While not all of the positions will be determined until later in the year, a few leading candidates have emerged from the field after just the second day of spring practice.

Left tackle Brian Winters, left guard Josh Kline and right tackle Kent Cleveland played their senior season last year and anchored a line that helped produce two 1,000-plus-yard running backs in Dri Archer and Trayion Durham. Now the pressure is on the remaining linemen, including juniors Phil Huff and Anthony Pruitt and fifth-year senior Pat McShane to fill the gaps created by the three major departures.

Of the three main candidates on the line, Huff appears to be the only one who will remain at the same position at which he started all 14 games of the 2012 season: starting center.

It might be a different feel without Winters and the other seniors, but Huff said the rest of the line will band together and create a new unit all their own.

“We’re all going to have to come together and bring a little more energy,” Huff said. “It’ll be a mixture of the guys here leading the way for us.”

Huff said there won’t be much adjustment needed lining up next to different guards than last season.

“I don’t think it really matters who it is,” Huff said. “Going from left to right guard, it’s still pretty much the same stuff. Coach really harps on everybody knowing all five positions. So I think we mix well.”

One of the movers on the line this season will be McShane, who will be switching from right guard to the left side to replace Kline. McShane said he worked all winter on making the transition and doesn’t believe the change will cause any issues.

“I’m pretty comfortable with it now,” McShane said. “No difference.”

McShane will once again be blocking for Archer and Durham coming out of the backfield, and he said he is looking forward to block for them after the kind of season they and the rest of the team had.

While McShane is simply switching which side of the center he will stand, Pruitt will face the challenge of changing which side of the ball he is on. The former defensive lineman was asked before spring practice began to make the shift to the offensive line, and Pruitt accepted the offer, albeit reluctantly at first.

“When the coaches first asked me, I didn’t want to do it because I came to college to play defense,” Pruitt said. “But I took it in, and I’m just trying to learn the plays and do what the coaches ask me to do because I’m trying to win just like my teammates.”

It is a big change for a player to go from the defensive line to the offensive line, but Pruitt is confident that, once he learns the steps and gets acclimated to the new position, he will able to fit right in. Pruitt will also now have to block the players he lined up together with in practice last season, and he said there are plenty of jokes back and forth between him and his former line mates.

“The O-line from last year would always clown about how they should cut [block] me,” Pruitt said. “Now I’ve got to do the cutting. So, I joke to the defensive line now about how I’ve got to cut them.”

Head coach Paul Haynes said the most important thing about Pruitt making the switch to offensive line is that he is positive about the move.

“When you talk to a kid about moving, you kind of see his disposition, you kind of see his body language,” Haynes said. “But he was excited about doing it, so he’ll continue to get better for us. He’s a very athletic kid, so all the things we’re asking the guards to do and what we want them to do as far as pulling, he’ll be able to do that.”

Haynes hired Shawn Clark in January to be the run game coordinator and offensive line coach, the same job Clark had held for the past four seasons at Purdue University. Haynes said he can already see the level of intensity Clark has instilled on the team’s linemen.

“He’s asking them to do the little things,” Haynes said. “He’s asking them to run to the ball on every single play. They’re going to be tough and physical. I know that, and I’m excited about seeing their improvement because they are getting better everyday that they’re out here.”

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].