Courtesy: Tim Fitzgerald/CMU Athletics
CMU Spring Football Spotlight: Offensive Line
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – Despite losing three starters to graduation, the Central Michigan offensive line in 2013 will be fronted by an experienced group.

Gone are left tackle Eric Fisher, who is in play to be the No. 1 overall selection in April’s NFL Draft, right guard Darren Keyton, and right tackle Mike Repovz, a group that combined to start 97 games during their college careers. While the void left by that trio’s departure may seem sizeable, continuity will be provided by four players who have seen significant action up front for CMU.

Center Nick Beamish and left guard Andy Phillips started every game in 2012 were key parts of an offense that averaged 6.2 yards per play and produced nearly 400 total yards per game. Beamish anchored the middle of the line in his first collegiate season while Phillips has been in the starting line-up for 17 consecutive games dating back to his freshman season.

“(Nick’s) leadership role is going to be more in his expertise and experience,” said CMU offensive line coach Mike Cummings. “He did a good job for us, but I think he could be a much better player. That is what happens to a freshman when everything you see is for the first time and you have to adjust to it.”

“I think Andy Phillips is really going to be a leader because he played the year before and then played all the games this past year. He knows what to do; he has great experience. He is tough and really enjoys football.”

Manning the left tackle position will eventually be Jake Olson, who has 26 careers starts to his credit. Olson was the starter at right tackle in 2012 but suffered a season-ending injury early on. He is being held out of spring practice while he continues to rehab but is expected to be full go by this summer. At 6-8, 305 lbs., Olson has similar size and skill set to his predecessor at the position.

Slotted to start at right tackle is Kevin Henry. The junior started four games as a freshman and replaced Mike Repovz in the starting line-up in 2012 versus UMass, helping CMU post 42 points in the road victory. A versatile player, he is also an option to play at right guard. 

“Kevin Henry is doing a great job,” said Cummings. “He has improved so much this year. He had to start for us a couple of years ago and that may have been a little too soon for him but, nonetheless, that experience really helped him. Last year, he was a back up and we were able to put him in some games and never lost a step.”

The right guard position is yet unsettled and there are several players vying for the starting spot; a battle that will likely continue through summer training camp. Senior Cody Pettit and redshirt freshman Connor Collins are candidates but others are being tried out for the position including Beamish and Ramadan Ahmeti.

The depth along the line is young but, thanks to tireless recruiting, is talent rich. Cummings singles out redshirt freshman Colin Goetz as an early standout in spring practice. In Olson’s absence, he has been taking the first team snaps at left tackle.

“(Colin’s) probably a little undersized right now, he’s only 290 pounds, but he’s got really good feet, good awareness, and he’s really tough. He is picking things up. He’s a freshman so there is a learning curve, but he’s done a really good job. It helps that he is playing right next to Andy Phillips, who can help him out a little bit. That always helps with development, if you are working with someone with experience.”

Other younger players have stepped to the forefront this spring, providing Cummings with a glimpse of a bright future for the CMU offensive line.  

“Connor Collins is a very tough guy and is eager to learn. Dylan Anderson and Kevin D’Arcy are doing well. They may be behind the learning curve just a little bit. Nonetheless, they are very tough players who work extremely hard and will become great players for Central Michigan.”

With a mix of veteran and inexperienced players to work with, Cummings is aiming to use the spring season to not only develop their talents but also find some answers regarding rotation and depth.

“As an offense, we know we need to do better in the red zone and on third down but, specifically as an offensive line, we have to get 10 guys that can go in, so we are be able to put two groups on the field that can execute the offense. Similarly, we need to be able to put one group on the field and whoever is in that first group needs to know there is no drop off. We need to work on that, but I think we are making progress.”