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Chemistry = Effort + Repetitions

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One positive of constructing a veteran staff is that experienced coaches have encountered virtually every situation imaginable. When this season is complete, after the wins have been tabulated and the state of the program reviewed, hiring three assistants that had been around the block might be viewed as the shrewdest move David Bailiff made in the offseason.

In Ed Zaunbrecher and Larry Edmondson, Bailiff hired men wily enough to guide quarterbacks unaccustomed to starting for Football Bowl Subdivision programs and receivers attempting to replace NFL-caliber talent. Offensive line coach Ronnie Vinklarek is cast from a similar mold, for after he was charged with the task of replacing three seniors who anchored the Owls' offensive line last season during the spring, he approached the chore with a calming ease.

When he arrived at Middle Tennessee State in 2003, Vinklarek inherited one senior starter up front. One season later, his first at SMU, he mentored walk-ons. He learned how to handle young linemen and has applied that knowledge with the Owls, who will start four sophomores (guards Davon Allen and Jake Hicks, center Keshawn Carrington and right tackle Tyler Parish) and one 19-year-old junior (left tackle Scott Mitchell) when they open at UAB on Sept. 5.

"What I've tried to do is not be as loud with them, not be as vocal in front of the team when there is a mistake made," Vinklarek said. "The young ones I've gotten a little more vocal on them because they've got to find a sense of urgency, but the older guys, for the most part, I don't accentuate a mistake. I try not to so that they can feel like they can talk to me and can feel they can ask me (questions) so they don't feel like everything is a life-and-death situation."

Allen and Carrington face daunting transitions because both will make their initial career starts. Allen closed the spring at right guard and as the successor to David Berken, who capped his career with 48 starts - 34 consecutively. Vinklarek opted to flip-flop Allen and Hicks so that Allen could work beside Mitchell, the Owls' most experienced lineman despite his age. Allen (6-2, 325) has the bulk and athleticism to thrive at left guard, and the voluntary hours he invested this summer to improve his technique both impressed and encouraged Vinklarek.

Carrington, the heir to Austin Wilkinson and his 44 career starts, has developed at an equally expeditious pace. He sprayed a troubling number of shotgun snaps during spring drills but has since sharpened his skills considerably while adding the 20 pounds he needed to play center.

"An older center can make some more definitive, loud calls and be a lot more in charge. He's doing a great job, but he still hasn't done it (in a game situation)," Vinklarek said of Carrington. "I'm excited because he's way ahead of where I thought he'd be. But ... it'll take time."

Time is running short. If the quarterback aims to lead like Chase Clement while exploiting the receiver depth the Owls hope offsets the departures of Jarett Dillard and James Casey, the offensive line must provide the protection to accomplish those goals. Vinklarek is working feverishly to develop the requisite cohesion, and in 18 days he'll examine how far he's come.  

"If you ask me after UAB," Vinklarek said, "I'll know where we're at."

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3 Comments

Given how young our offensive line is, and thus the minimal gap in experience between some of our starters and freshmen, are there any newcomers pushing to earn PT and avoid a redshirt year?

I'd also be curious to know what the coaches thought didn't work last year in the run game, and how that's going to be improved this season.

At Ease: To answer your second question first, I think it's two-fold. First, the talent upgrade at tailback is significant, plus the depth is vastly superior. Second, the O-line is a little bigger-stronger-faster, and that should enable the Owls to run with more authority. As for the youngsters, I'd give Janish the best shot at playing as a reserve, but I would imagine the preference remains to redshirt the linemen. - MK

Glad to see the continued high quality of your reporting and writing in this blog, MK.

Now that the blog has a name -- The R -- will there be a blog-specific banner art or logo displayed atop the blog pages?

-- Mike (Baker '70)

Mike: That had been discussed, and given that you aren't the first person to ask, I don't see why we can't pursue making that change. I'll see what can be done. - MK

Good stuff, MK. Will this page be branded like the link on the riceowls.com front page? Hope so. From your tweets this morning, it sounded like the running game may have picked it up a notch or two. True?

Brookes: Allen is a beast on the pull, and Mitchell is pure quality - both as a protector and at sealing the edges. Vinklarek said this line is better at run blocking than pass protection, and given the number of tailbacks at their disposal, I wouldn't be shocked if the Owls keep it on the ground with greater frequency this season. - MK

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