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Published: Friday, 8/8/2008

Offensive line may hold key for BG

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - They understand where the skepticism comes from and they've come to accept that there is a caveat - and it is them.

But the offensive line at Bowling Green State University wants to tell its side of the story, and the argument goes something like this: Unknown doesn't necessarily mean unqualified. The men up front think that anyone who doubts them in early August should be flagged for a false start.

Little is known about a unit that many have been presumed the weak link in what could be an explosive offense. What is known, though, is three seniors who combined to start 107 games must be replaced.

"We don't look at is as a question mark," senior guard Brandon Curtis said. "We look at it like we're going to outwork everybody out here. We put in hard work this summer. It's going to show up during fall camp and also when we start playing."

There are two near absolutes when it comes to offensive linemen. They hang together away from the field, and they are some of the hardest workers on any given team. Curtis said he and his line mates were typically the last to leave the gym this summer. It's a proud group that expects greatness even though others aren't so sure.

"It doesn't upset me," senior tackle Jeff Fink said. "We take it as a challenge. We did lose three great offensive linemen, but the one thing we've got right now is competition. Competition is going to make better offensive linemen, and I think it will elevate the level of play from the O-line."

No doubt, the play of the line will be the most discussed topic in camp, especially because its performance during spring practice was underwhelming - although injuries and a lack of set rotations could have played a part. However, their leader on the field is optimistic that the line won't hold the offense back from becoming one of the best in the Mid-American Conference.

"The spring game didn't bother me much," quarterback Tyler Sheehan said. "Coach [Matt] Campbell is going to get those guys ready. He's a great coach. When it comes down to it they'll be ready to play."

Campbell is embracing the challenge of finding the right mix of guys to form a solid front. It's a different set of responsibilities than a year ago when he stepped into a job where he mostly fine-tuned what had been handed to him. For years, BG's strength has been in its offensive line, and Campbell understands the importance of continuing that trend.

"We'll go as far as the five guys up front will take us," said Campbell, who is doubling as co-off-ensive coordinator. "With what we do in our scheme, it's those five guys that set the tone."

Although the depth chart is fluid, some things were nearly resolved in the spring. Ben Bojicic, a freshman from Farmington Hills, Mich., will probably start at center, and Aaron Kent (left tackle) and Fink (right tackle) are also practicing with the first team. Returning starters Shane Steffy, a junior, and Curtis have the edge to retain their jobs at left and right guard.

Early indications from camp have the two-deep looking unsettled. Reserve tackles Tyler Donahue and Casey McHugh, and guard Brady Minturn, seem to have the best chances of unseating a starter.

Kent knows what it's like to be battling for a spot. He spent his first three years behind starter Drew Nystrom and didn't see much action until last year.

"It's a great challenge, but I wouldn't change anything," said Kent, a 6-6, 300-pound senior from Zanesville, Ohio. "I think there's a lot of trials and tribulations you go through here and it makes you a better man on top of a better football player. Now is my time and I'm looking forward to the opportunity."

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com.



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