Arkansas State has a month to solve line change

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - BROOKS KUBENA

JONES­BORO — Hardly two months past his fresh­man year of col­lege, Troy El­liott was the “vet­eran” of the Red Wolves of­fen­sive line at Arkansas State Uni­ver­sity’s foot­ball me­dia day Fri­day af­ter­noon.

Three floors above Jones­boro’s Cen­ten­nial Bank Sta­dium, the right guard from Flower Mound, Texas, ex­plained how he was han­dling the pre­ma­ture lead­er­ship role over a po­si­tion group that does not have a re­turn­ing starter from last sea­son. Not even him.

“I don’t re­ally have true vet­eran ex­pe­ri­ence,” said El­liott, who started two games last sea­son in re­lief of reg­u­lar starter Colton Jack­son, who was nurs­ing a con­cus­sion at the time. “But I’ve got my feet wet for sure. I feel like I’ve been through it and that I know what’s com­ing.”

Ahead lie 23 days of prac­tices and scrim­mages, which — at 8: 50 a. m. this morn­ing — will start fall camp sooner than ever. In April, the NCAA dis­banded mul­ti­ple foot­ball prac­tices on the same day and per­mit­ted ath­letic pro­grams to have 29 prac­tices be­fore their first games of the sea­son.

ASU Coach Blake An­der­son said the rul­ing al­lowed the team to start camp five days early, which pro­vided four more prac­tices and team meet­ings be­fore the sea­son opener at Ne­braska on Sept. 2. Within that time, five new start­ing of­fen­sive line­men will have to be named.

“We’re not even close to that con­ver­sa­tion yet,” said An­der­son, whose of­fense ranked fourth in the Sun Belt Con­fer­ence last sea­son with 27.3 points per game. “We have not put a start­ing five on the field yet. That just wasn’t avail­able in [spring prac­tice]. The next 30 days, the main fo­cus will be find­ing a group and mak­ing sure that they’re work­ing on the same page.”

There are 19 line­men on the ASU ros­ter, and the only se­nior is Jaypee Philbert — a 6-5, 314-pound grad­u­ate trans­fer who spent the past two sea­sons at Iowa State. Philbert did not prac­tice with the team in the spring, but he rep­re­sents a size ad­van­tage the Red Wolves did not have last year. Only two of­fen­sive line­men on the 2016 ros­ter weighed over 320 pounds; this sea­son, there are seven.

“We’re con­sid­er­ably big­ger,” said of­fen­sive line coach Allen Ru­dolph, who has two more line­men than last sea­son. “And not only size-wise but num­bers- wise, which I think is go­ing to cre­ate com­pet­i­tive­ness. I think that makes peo­ple bet­ter. Com­pe­ti­tion some­times shows peo­ple can do it, and some peo­ple don’t han­dle that en­vi­ron­ment very well. So, I would rather know that in prac­tice in­stead of when we get to Lin­coln, Ne­braska.”

Ru­dolph said the growth in size is now the new “ex­pec­ta­tion in re­cruit­ing,” but that it couldn’t sac­ri­fice the ath­leti­cism that is needed in ASU’s run- pass- op­tion of­fense, which re­quires mo­bil­ity from its line­men. The is­sue was ad­dressed dur­ing sum­mer work­outs with first-year strength coach Kaz Kazadi, who im­ple­mented “Project Un­fat” — a con­di­tion­ing pro­gram that in­cluded ex­tra car­dio and move­ment for play­ers who had “a hard time keep­ing up” dur­ing spring prac­tice.

”We can­not have a great sum­mer if the of­fen­sive line and de­fen­sive line did not have a great sum­mer,” said Kazadi, who was hired June 22 af­ter spend­ing nine sea­sons at Bay­lor in the same role. “They make ev­ery­thing go.”

Ru­dolph ex­pects El­liott to some­times play tackle or cen­ter, but he said he prefers lock­ing his line­men in one po­si­tion, which al­lows them to have co­he­sion with the team­mates be­side them on the line.

By the end of fall camp, Ru­dolph ex­pects he’ll find his five.

“The num­ber one thing I’m look­ing for is a bunch of dudes that’ll try to bloody peo­ple’s noses,” Ru­dolph said.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/MITCHELL PE MASILUN

Sopho­more Troy El­liott started two games for Arkansas State, but he has the most start­ing ex­pe­ri­ence among the Red Wolves’ of­fen­sive line­men en­ter­ing this sea­son.

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