September 23, 2010

Battle in the Trenches: Previewing the Lines

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Despite recent obsession over the “Era of the Quarterback” or the emergence of freakish athletes serving as dual-threats in wildcat formations, the game of football is still, and always will be, won and lost in the trenches. As a result, head coach Kent Austin has begun his term with Cornell by placing an emphasis on traditional, hard-nosed football –– where the battle over the line of scrimmage rules all. In order to effectively execute this plan, both the Red’s offensive and defensive lines will need to make some adjustments in 2010.

Cornell’s offensive line features two returning starters from a year ago, seniors Paul Ostick and Matt Green. Despite being the most experienced members of the Red’s line, both Ostick and Green will be in relatively unfamiliar territory as they switch positions in 2010. A starting center a year ago, Ostick will be asked to fill Green’s old position at left guard. Green, as a result, will be shifting to the other end of the line at right guard.

The Red’s offensive line will be trying to establish a prominent run game in 2010.

“In football, especially in this league, the team that runs the ball has a great opportunity to win,” Ostick said. “In the past couple of years, we haven’t run the ball well and that’s led to an abysmal offense. We have a power run game, that’s our bread and butter, and that’s what we’re looking to do every game.”

If all works according to plan, the run game should also help to serve as a form of protection for emerging freshman quarterback Jeff Matthews.

“If we establish a run game early, it takes the pressure off Jeff … so we’re not finding ourselves in third and long and putting a lot more pressure on him,” Ostick said.

Ostick and Green will be asked to provide leadership for a young offensive line that will feature several inexperienced players. Robert Bullington and Dan Riggi are two of those players. Bullington, a sophomore, will be asked to make the transition from the J.V. field in 2009 to the starting center position for the varsity squad in 2010. Riggi, a senior walk-on, will be moved into a starting role at right tackle after seeing limited action in 2009.

According to Ostick, both Bullington and Riggi are fully capable of shouldering the load this season.

“Bullington and [Riggi] are both tough kids,” Ostick said. “Especially [Bullington], he’s going to be very, very good in the future.”

Rounding out the offensive line will be junior Drew McGowan. After being sidelined by an injury in his freshman season and playing tight end as a sophomore, McGowan will be asked to fill a hole at tackle this year. Ostick doesn’t see this as an issue, claiming that McGowan is fully capable of filling any of the three positions on the offensive line.

Although the starters have been established, the offensive line figures to be a fluid component to the Red’s success in 2010, and many positions are open for competition.

“There’s a lot of guys who have an opportunity to play and we’re pushing ourselves in practice. No one’s spot is safe anytime because it’s always competitive with us,” Ostick said. “I think that’s going to help us as the year goes on.”

While the offensive line seems to be taking a more traditional approach this season, so does the defensive line under coordinator Rob McCrone. The Red has adopted a 4-3 scheme in 2010, which will feature four down linemen focused on blocking all possible gaps in the trenches.

Starting at defensive end for the Red will be junior Mike Spooner and sophomore Hugh Stewart. Spooner had a successful sophomore campaign in 2009, recording 18 tackles and 1.5 sacks to go along with two fumble recoveries. Stewart countered with 13 tackles and a forced fumble. Juniors Matt MacFarlane and Brian Carrol headline a deep group of defensive tackles. MacFarlane recorded 5.5 tackles for a loss a year ago and Carrol totaled 17 tackles in his efforts.

While the roles have changed, they are perhaps a little more clear-cut under the new scheme. The idea behind the Red’s 4-3 is that each player will know his job on each and every play, making for easier communication and more effective play on the field.

“In this defense, everyone’s accountable for a gap and every gap is covered,” Spooner said. “That’s sort of the idea behind the 4-3 we’re playing. Now that everyone’s in their gap, it’s been a good transition and everyone knows where they need to be to get their assignment done.”

Original Author: Dan Froats