Penguins shuffling up front
As injuries take toll, offensive linemen are trying new positions
By BRIAN DZENIS
It’s hard to solve a puzzle if the pieces keep breaking.
The Youngstown State football team’s offensive line remains in a similar state to where it was in the 2015 season.
Injuries have forced the Penguins coaching staff to shuffle roles along the line. Because it’s April and not October, having only seven healthy lineman available isn’t too dire of a situation.
“We had guys move around and step up in different spots. It helps guys develop,” head coach Bo Pelini said Monday. “I think it’s important to know what’s going on if you have to switch to guard or tackle if need be.”
The players that had to do that in Monday’s practice were junior Cameron Fraser going from tackle to center, sophomore Jeff Rotherham going from tackle to guard and senior Dylan Colucci playing right tackle instead of right guard.
Colucci has experience playing the new position as he started one game there last year.
“It’s a lot different in the pass rush since it’s a lot faster,” Colucci said. “Guard is easier because [opponents] are bigger and right up on the ball.”
The remaining healthy lineman are Gavin Wiggins, James Wilson, Jason Sims and new juco-transfer Vitas Hrynkiewicz.
Three players who have starting experience, but remain out with various ailments are Justin Spencer, Brock Eisenhuth and Cole Newsome.
Offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo doesn’t mind putting players out of their comfort zone or having them fear for their jobs as he slides players into different roles.
“I’m a big believer in cross training. You might see guys playing different positions in team settings or drills,” Bricillo said. “In the 9-on-7 settings, I’m flopping guys around a bunch because they need to be able to play multiple positions.”
It’s still too early to declare any starters this spring, but Hrynkiewicz has impressed at center. With previous starter Matt Bell not coming back to the team due to a myriad of injuries, the Penguins brought in Hrynkiewicz from Independence Community College in Independence, Kan. Bricillo went there to scout Hrynkiewicz and the coach said he found a “tough, mean S.O.B.
“He’s still learning, we put a lot on the center,” Bricillo said. “Mentally, you can see him out there thinking a little bit and everyday he’s learning a new scheme and a new technique that we require.
“I was really pleased in that he made some calls today that were commanding.”
Hrynkiewicz was to compete with Newsome and redshirt-freshman Cole McHenry for the starting role, but injuries to the latter two have allowed the Somerset, N.J., native to get most of the reps. Fraser has shown his value as a utility lineman while spelling Hrynkiewicz.
“He’s very versatile. He’s played guard and tackle in games and he’s also the emergency center,” Bricillo said.
The patchwork offensive line had a rough Saturday after taking the week off from practice, but the coaching staff saw improvement on Monday.
“I thought they came out and responded to what happened on Saturday and they came out and fought and that’s what you want to see happen,” Pelini said.