TERRE HAUTE —
When you look at Indiana State’s offensive line, the image that comes back at you is the one that most reflects the state of the Sycamores’ 2012 hopes.
The ISU offensive line has perhaps the greatest variance of any unit the Sycamores will put on the field. Much as ISU’s team could be great if all things click, or mediocre if they don’t, the same is true for the line.
On one hand, ISU’s offensive line is chock full of experience. Left guard Justin Wood, center Evan Borchers and right tackle Casey Paswater are all fifth-year seniors.
Paswater has been a starter for most of his career. Borchers has played every position on the line and Wood began to get major playing time in 2011.
They’re joined by sophomore right guard Adam Masters, who started 10 games in 2011, and big sophomore left tackle Paul Patrick (6-7, 300), who started two games in 2011.
“We feel great together. We’ve got three fifth-year seniors on the line. Adam Masters and Paul Patrick started some games. We feel confident,” Paswater said.
Yet ISU coach Trent Miles still needs some convincing that ISU’s offensive line is where it needs to be for Saturday’s opener against Indiana. There is evidence for his concerns.
Chief among them is the status of injured starting center FN Lutz. The senior from West Lafayette was a Preseason All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection, but he hasn’t seen the field since suffering ligament damage to his left knee on the last play of ISU’s Blue-White spring game.
While Miles has said Lutz is ahead of schedule in his recovery, no determination has been made as to whether he’ll play this season or sit out as a medical redshirt.
Moreover, nearly every member of ISU’s line suffered an injury at one time or another during the preseason. Most of the injuries weren’t season-threatening, but it was hard for the line to create continuity in the preseason with a revolving door of players missing practice.
“I’ve got concerns because of the fact we have some inexperience up there. Anytime you take a guy like FN Lutz out … he’s one of the best centers in I-AA. He’s got NFL scouts looking at him. Yes, you can replace him with somebody, but no matter who you replace him with, that’s a difficult talent to replace,” Miles said.
Borchers steps into the spotlight to fill Lutz’s shoes. The 6-2, 295 pound Cincinnati native has been a jack of all trades for the Sycamores — he started six games at left tackle and one at right guard in 2010. Borchers sat out the 2011 season due to personal issues.
“All spring everyone thought FN was going to be the cowbell. It’s unfortunate what happened to him, but we all have to step into roles. I feel like the role I have — being the leader up front and having everyone under my control — I know I know what I’m going to do is good and so will the guys around me,” Borchers said.
A big key for the ISU offensive line is whether is can adjust to the kinds of defenses the Sycamores will see to stop standout running back Shakir Bell.
Blocking for Bell is only part of it, the challenge for the line is proving it can protect quarterback Mike Perish, so ISU’s offense isn’t one-dimensional, which will dissuade teams from loading up the box to stop Bell.
“Hopefully, we’ll prove we can block people and protect. People are going to make us throw the ball with Shakir in the backfield. If we don’t, it’s going to be tough,” Miles said.
Despite some personnel changes offensively, Paswater doesn’t expect much to change in the trenches.
“I don’t think our gameplan is going to vary much. We’ve got a great running back in Shakir Bell. We’ve got George Cheeseborough and Richie Dyer. We’ve got a great stable of backs and we’ve got a great quarterback in Mike Perish, so I don’t think much will change,” Paswater said.
Beyond the starting five there’s very little experience on the line. Nick Rice, a redshirt freshman from Greenwood, got a long look during the preseason, as did Terre Haute’s Dakota Vermillion.