Slimmer Northwestern State offensive line enjoying quicker offensive tempo

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NATCHITOCHES — Northwestern State’s quicker offensive tempo under new offensive coordinator Kyle Manley has injected a little more energy and urgency into fall practices.

And for an experienced offensive line that tips the scales between 270-370 pounds, the pace has also meant slimmer waistlines.

Junior offensive lineman Frank Boudreaux trimmed 15 pounds from this past season’s playing weight, becoming more agile at a sleek 305 pounds.

“For me, I had to shape up a little bit,” said Boudreaux, who is one of four returning linemen with at least eight career starts. “It’s a big advantage for us in our scrimmages because we see the defensive line becoming more tired than they’ve ever been, so that will help us come game time.”

Fellow junior Andrew McAlister might be a little trimmer at 287 pounds, but he admits the adjustment was difficult at first.

“It was a big adjustment, but we’ve continued to run and condition throughout camp, so it’s gotten a lot better,” said the Alexandria native. “We weren’t used to having to run that much, but now the offense has more energy, and we love it.

“We like how we get down and get set, and the defense isn’t quite ready. That’s a little extra advantage.”

The staple of the offensive line has been its road-paving running game, something that could improve from its Southland Conference bests of 190 rushing yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry as defenses wear down late in games.

But new offensive coordinator Kyle Manley, who coached quarterbacks this past season, is aiming to create more explosive plays.

New offensive line coach Jeff Bowen, who coached NSU tight ends in 2015 and assisted with the offensive line in 2014, says more explosion plays start with pass protection up front.

“We’ve always run the ball here well, and this offense is offensive-line friendly with its simplicity up front,” Bowen said. “We’ve made improvements in pass protection on the offensive line and in the backfield, and I’m excited to see that progression.

“We’re blessed to go against pretty good defensive linemen and an entire defensive scheme that makes us work, know our rules and carry them out. But you’ve got to run the ball to win in the (Southland Conference), no matter if you’re in a spread offense or a multiple tight end look.”

Bowen is a familiar face with the more experienced linemen, which are abundant in a unit that has eight juniors and seniors.

Senior Korliss Johnson (four-year starter) and junior Chris Zirkle started all 11 games in 2016, while Boudreaux and senior Andrew Bluiett each started eight contests.

Bowen said the losses of center Cameron Hussey and guard Terrance Boyd are significant, but an experienced core of guys should be prepared to play.

“We have a lot of guys who’ve played a lot of snaps and have seen lots of fronts and blitzes that teams run in this league,” Bowen said. “It’s been valuable already in fall camp because because we can adjust by just talking through something instead of having re-rep it and re-rep it.

“The center position is the quarterback of the offensive line in that he gets us straight in a lot of stuff. Hussey was a really smart player, but we’ve got guys like Timmis Bonner and Dustin Burns that have played that position before. We’ve also been pleased with newcomers like freshman Kenny Sheldon and junior Tyler Rapp (Air Force Academy). That position isn’t set in stone yet, but we’ve got a lot of guys on campus that have done a good job.

Playing experience coupled with familiarity of Bowen from his earlier NSU tenure equates to the offensive line being a foundation for the 2017 Demons.

“(Bowen) has always been upbeat with a lot of energy, so we knew to expect that when he came back,” McAlister said. “He has us in a mindset of competing every day in practice because no spot is guaranteed, and that’s been really good for us.

“The offensive line has a close bond and we know each other, but at the same time, we’re competing and we’re making each other better.”

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