Chippewas Keep The Ship Afloat Up Front

Senior J.P. Quinn (right) has been the mainstay along the Chippewa offensive line in 2017. He has started all 12 games, 10 of them at center.
Dec. 7, 2017

Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. -- Smoke and mirrors? A ball of twine and a jar of glue?

Somehow, some way, Central Michigan football coach John Bonamego and offensive line coach/run-game coordinator Derek Frazier have managed to keep it all together and put a cohesive unit on the field and get it done.

The Chippewa offensive line, which is about as patchwork as they come, is a big reason why the Chippewas have won six of their last seven games and take an 8-4 record into the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Dec. 22 in Boise against Wyoming (7-5).

Eleven players have started along the five-man interior of the ever-evolving offensive line at one time or another this season, and several have played two or more positions be it because of injury, ineffectiveness, or the coaching staff's quest for the right combination.

As a comparison, last year just seven players drew starts and three started all 13 games. This year, just one, center J.P. Quinn, has started every game.

"I've never seen as many different combinations as we've used this year," said Frazier, who is in his third season at CMU and 18th as a college assistant. "It's been crazy how many different guys have played."

Crazy out of necessity, but it has worked, and the line is a big reason for the Chippewas' late-season surge that has the program at eight wins for the first time since 2009.

During their five-game win streak, the Chippewas have averaged 178 yards rushing and 406.4 total yards. They have scored an average of 41.2 points in that span.

Certainly, the credit for those numbers can be shared by the likes of an increasingly confident quarterback Shane Morris who is throwing to a healthy receiving corps, and the legs of running back Jonathan Ward, who has rushed for 625 yards, scored eight touchdowns and is averaging 7.44 yards per carry in CMU's last five games.

But nothing gets done until it gets done up front.

"It helps having all the weapons," says Quinn, who has started 10 games at center, and one at each of the guard positions. "It has been patchwork, but it hasn't been at the same time because we have been playing with each other for so long. We just know how each other plays and we know what to expect from each other."

Obviously, it has taken time for things to come together. The installation of a new offense in the offseason brought a steep learning curve, though the maturation of the line is less about X's and O's than it is about something more visceral, something that can't necessarily be measured.

"I'll tell you what," Frazier said, "chemistry is everything on the offensive line. You've got to know the guy playing next to you. You've got to trust him. You've got to know what he's going to do, what's happening in front of you, and have that trust in it. That's incredibly important, having guys that can gel and work together."

So too is knowing each and every position across the line, Quinn said.

"Coach Frazier harps on it that every person know every position on the offensive line," Quinn said. "So if I had to go and play guard or tackle, I could go and play guard or tackle. You have to know the whole playbook to be able to play your best. That's what our biggest key has been this season, being able to switch everyone around."

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