One week before Montana State’s season opener, offensive line coach Jason McEndoo is focused on the position battle taking place at left guard.
Sophomore Kyle Godecke and Freshman JP Flynn have spent the majority of fall camp taking turns in the starting lineup, leaving McEndoo and the Bobcats’ offensive staff with one major decision to make before Monmouth arrives for Aug. 29’s Gold Rush.
The narrow focus is a long way from the list of questions that faced the offensive line during spring camp. With the services of just two starters from last season’s group, McEndoo was attempting to fill holes at three positions as spring ball began in late March. The uncertainty created an unstable situation as players were transferred from one position to another.
Early on in spring drills, MSU’s tentative depth chart listed Joel Horn at center, Alex Eekhoff at right tackle and Matt Devereux at left guard. Two weeks later, Horn and Devereux were auditioning at center along with junior Quinn Catalano, previously thought to be settled at right guard — the position he started 13 games at in 2012.
The carousel at center resulted in an alarming amount of botched snaps that left the coaching staff unable to properly assess the unit’s progression.
Fast-forward to August and those issues appear to be a thing of the past.
“We made quite a few adjustments from spring to fall,” Godecke said following Wednesday’s morning practice. “In the spring we had a good O-line, but we had a couple that had injuries and (now) those guys are back. It’s really made a difference in the fall, just with rotations and all that.”
Catalano is back at right guard; John Weidenaar has a firm grip on left tackle; Eekhoff has been reinstalled at right tackle and Devereux was selected to start at center.
“I just made an executive decision,” McEndoo said. “I just decided Matthew could be that guy. He’s very athletic, very quick; he’s a very smart individual — he’s a double finance major. He’s going to graduate early and start his graduate work before he ever leaves Montana State. He’s got all the intangibles I’m looking for at that position — and he’s 298 pounds.”
All that remains for McEndoo to decide is who is going to fill his last opening. Godecke has an edge in experience after starting nine games last year because of an injury to Devereux, but the competition is still too close to call.
McEndoo, entering his 11th season as MSU’s offensive line coach, said he expects the staff will make a decision soon but wasn’t in position to say which player would start the opener.
Whomever makes the cut will continue the youth movement along the front line: Montana State will either begin the season with one junior (Catalano, who Flynn called the group’s leader) joined by four sophomores, or the ’Cats will begin with one junior, three sophomores and one freshman if Flynn prevails, raising a few questions about the group’s continuity and preparedness.
“Practice is one thing, but we’re going to get out here and there’s 18,000-plus (fans) and it’s go time,” McEndoo said. “You’ve got to be able to slow yourself down in a situation where there is a lot of yelling, screaming, moving around. … You’ve got to be able to do your job within the haze and distraction of the game.”
Throughout fall camp the line has been adjusting to changes in the offense’s snap count and the increased tempo of first-year offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey’s scheme. Montana State was exclusively a no-huddle team last year, but the pace at which they have been operating during fall camp has tested an offensive line averaging 292 pounds.
“It’s been tiring, especially for big guys like us, but it takes a toll on the defense,” Flynn said. “As you can see in a couple scrimmages, they get tired. … It’s done wonders for us, and I think it’s going to do well for us in the future.”
Now that the line is largely settled and has had 18 days to adjust, McEndoo is confident the young group is ready to end fall camp and begin a new season.
“We’ve done a nice job in the classroom; we meet every night, we meet every day, watch our film, watch our opponent’s film for a week and a half now,” he said. “In addition to our practices, we’ve had 18 walkthroughs. We’re covering blitzes and just every formation we can.
“If we had to play tomorrow, I think we’re ready to go.”
Kyle Sample can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @kylesample_bdc