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Even with two new starters, the University of Toledo’s offensive line has been the least of coach Tim Beckman’s worries heading into the 2011 season.
Four-year starting center Kevin Kowalski and three-year starter Nate Cole have graduated, but the Rockets return their two sturdy tackles — Mike VanDerMeulen on the left side and John Morookian on the right — and Phillipkeith Manley at left guard.
VanDerMeulen (6-7, 304) and Morookian (6-5, 301) are entering their fourth season as starters, and Manley (6-5, 309) was a mainstay at his position last year.
The trio of seniors has combined for 85 starts at Toledo, including 37 consecutive from VanDerMeulen and 35 from Morookian, and is paving the way for newcomers Zac Kerin and Greg Mancz.
“The offensive line looks great,” Beckman said. “We have three veterans who have played a lot of football, even prior to [the new coaching staff] getting here. And then you’ve got Greg Mancz, who is only a redshirt freshman but is going to be a great, great football player for us, and Zac Kerin, who is doing the snapping. Probably as much depth as we’ve ever had also.”
After switching back and forth during spring practices, Kerin has settled in at center and Mancz at right guard.
“All through the spring, we split reps at guard and center,” Kerin said. “This summer is when it kind of sorted itself out when Greg took over at right guard and I took over at center.”
Kerin, a 6-5, 294-pound sophomore from Delaware, Ohio, who is a civil engineering major, played in 12 games last year as a redshirt freshman, with most of his time coming at right guard.
Mancz, a Cincinnati native who is majoring in business, is listed at 6-5, 280 pounds, but he told The Blade in the spring that he had bulked up to 295 pounds.
“We’re the two new faces on the offensive line, but with three returning starters, they bring a lot of leadership, so we’re just kind of watching what they do and learning from them,” Kerin said.
After redshirting last season, Mancz came on strong in spring workouts and had his efforts recognized when he was picked second behind wideout Eric Page in the Rockets’ annual draft to divide the team into two squads for the spring game.
“He’s done a great job,” VanDerMeulen said of Mancz. “He’s worked hard all offseason, he’s gotten really strong, so that’s going to help him a lot.”
The average height on the Rockets’ offensive line is 6-5 with an average listed weight of 298 pounds.
That’s not the biggest group that VanDerMeulen has played with at UT, but it could still end up being the best.
“Overall, it’s a more athletic and probably stronger [group],” VanDerMeulen said. “Not necessarily as big, but we make up for our lack of size with our strength and quickness.”