Arkansas State has a month to solve line change
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.
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.