Aug. 13, 2014 By Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com -
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Perhaps no other position group exemplifies the strides the Central Michigan football team has made under fifth-year coach Dan Enos than the offensive line.
The Chippewas are about as experienced as a football team can be up front with all five starters returning, and that quartet has combined to log 91 starts at CMU.
"Coach Enos, I credit him with that," said left guard Andy Phillips, who has started CMU's last 30 games, the longest such streak among any of the Chippewas. "He's really taken this program - he's told us before that he's had a vision of what he wanted the program to look like in five years and this is it.
"We have all these guys coming back, all these guys working together, and our biggest thing is we're going to take it day-by-day, but we also have our long-term goals. And that's what motivates us every day.
"This team, we really feel like we're a family and we come out here and we compete, compete, compete and we respect each other."
Phillips, a team co-captain and a Second Team All-Mid-American Conference selection a year ago, is the leader of a group that, from an outsider's point of view, would appear not to require much direction.
• Nick Beamish, a junior, has started 25 consecutive games at center.
• Sophomore Connor Collins started the final nine games of the 2013 season at right guard and was named CMU's Offensive Rookie of the Year.
• Senior Kevin Henry started all 12 games last season at right tackle.
• Sophomore Ramadan Ahmeti started the final 10 contests last season.
• Junior Kenny Rogers, who appeared in six games a year ago, also could figure into the starting mix, as could any number of capable veterans biding their time in backup roles.
"When you have a more mature group, I think you're able to speed up the installation of your plays and your schemes and do more concepts at an earlier stage," said Butch Barry, who is in his fifth season as an assistant under Enos and his first as the offensive line coach.
That experience is invaluable at any position, but perhaps it's paramount on the offensive line, where cohesiveness and communication - much of it non-verbal and instinctive - is more critical than anywhere on the football field.
"One quote I've always liked is, `A bad day for the offense is a bad day for the offensive line,'" Phillips said. "Because if one guy on the offensive line misses his block, it's a dead play.
"We know with all five of us working together, we have a chance. There's no guarantees, but in order to have a chance, we need all five guys to work together. And that's something we really pride ourselves on."
In short, the offensive line is the backbone of any football team, and a breakdown among one is a breakdown for all five.
"We're only as strong as our weakest link," Barry said. "Every one of those guys understands that we're in this together and we've got to all battle this as one."
And while it would appear, on paper, that the starting spots along the line are spoken for, Berry refuses to allow any of his linemen - be it the returnees atop the depth chart down to the raw freshmen - to get comfortable.
"Every spot is open, I look at it that way," Barry said. "I don't think that you can say, until the first game, that this is written in stone. We've got some very mature kids, some kids who have started a lot of games, but they need to know that if their play drops and somebody else's play exceeds theirs - you don't just get to have that spot. So all spots are open and we're rotating a lot of different guys in."
The linemen also recognize, to a man, that they carry the weight of tradition and expectation. Former Chippewa tackle Eric Fisher was the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft and another former CMU tackle, Joe Staley, is a three-time All-Pro entering his eighth season with the San Francisco 49ers.
"To play offensive line at Central Michigan is the best," Phillips said. "It's Offensive Line U. in my opinion. You're playing offensive line at Central Michigan, you know you're in the midst of something special, and I really think that every day we come to work, we have to live up to that tradition."