WKU's close-knit offensive line looking to uphold standard of past teams
Western Kentucky first-year coach Mike Sanford quipped earlier this preseason that his offensive line could be seen everywhere around town together. He painted the picture of the team’s five starters even walking down the road in formation – from left tackle to right tackle.
That’s a good sign for a unit that has traditionally been close-knit in recent years, but one that perhaps needs to be even more so with new members in a new scheme in 2017.
“The O-line, we’re real close. We like to hang out. Any time we have some free time we like cracking some jokes, just laughing,” WKU’s Matt Nord said. “We’re always together – you’ll see us eating, walking – so it is kinda true. We do kinda travel in packs. We have a good time.”
Nord (6-6, 320) has played 31 games as a Hilltopper, but will be a full-time starter for the first time in his college career in this his last season at WKU. The redshirt-senior working toward a master of business administration degree is hoping to master the right tackle position in place of the graduated Darrell Williams (now with San Francisco in the NFL).
Nord has also had to emerge as a leader among his line mates.
“It’s been an adjustment,” he said. “It started after the bowl game last year with the young guys coming in and someone needing to be there on the O-line. I’m not the only one – the older guys just try to come in and motivate the young guys to work hard, too, and get better.”
Opposite of Nord will be Jimmie Sims (6-4, 295), a redshirt-senior taking over at left tackle for the graduated Forrest Lamp (now with the Los Angeles Chargers). A New Orleans native, Sims has been a versatile reserve during his four years on The Hill, playing on special teams protection, at tackle and even as a blocking tight end.
He has the unenviable task of following behind Lamp – a second-round pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
“Just doing whatever I can to make the offense run efficiently, maximum production with everything I can do across the board,” Sims said.
On WKU’s interior will be redshirt-senior Brandon Ray (6-2, 300) at left guard and one-time Memphis commit Miles Pate (6-2, 320) at right guard. Ray, from Madison, Ala., has started 41 straight games at his position after redshirting in 2013 and should be considered one of Conference USA’s best offensive lineman.
Pate, a redshirt-sophomore from Suwanee, Ga., saw the field 11 times last year as a backup.
In the middle of it all will be the familiar face of Dennis Edwards, a 6-foot-1, 300-pound redshirt-junior who has switched back to his natural position at center after playing guard in 28 games over the past two seasons. The Snellville, Ga., native was considered the 19th-best center in the nation as a high school senior in 2013.
“Me and (quarterback) Mike (White) have always been pretty good friends. It kinda worked out the best that I ended up over at center because we’ve always been pretty good friends since we first came to The Hill,” Edwards said. “It’s gonna work out good for us because we can communicate with each other if anything does happen to go wrong.”
Nord, Sims and Ray are the only seniors among Western Kentucky’s offensive linemen. Edwards, Tennessee Martin transfer Nick Allen and former Highlands High School tight end Nick True are the only juniors.
That equates to a lot of youth and inexperience behind the starting front five – something to keep an eye on should one of Western’s best not be able to take the field.
“I think (the young players) can just see watching film what it takes to be a successful O-line,” Nord said. “I think the main thing is preparation. You gotta know your opponent, know what you’re doing in order to go out there and play fast. That’s our main focus, is preparation right now.”