The Daily Aztec

Offensive line looks to build upon breakout season

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Offensive line scrimmages at the annual Fan Fest at SDCCU Stadium on Aug. 18.

Offensive line scrimmages at the annual Fan Fest at SDCCU Stadium on Aug. 18.

Kareem Jones

Kareem Jones

Offensive line scrimmages at the annual Fan Fest at SDCCU Stadium on Aug. 18.

by Aaron Tolentino, Assistant Sports Editor

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San Diego State football’s offensive line is a part of history.

In each of the last two seasons, the Aztecs have rushed for over 2,000 yards, the only FBS school in history to do so.

SDSU operates out of a pro-style offense that places emphasis on running between the tackles, so having a stout offensive line is key.

Last year, the offensive line paved the way for Rashaad Penny, who led the nation with 2,248 rushing yards despite running behind a line which included five different first-time starters.

Coming into the 2018 campaign, the Aztecs offensive line will have gained another year of experience, and head coach Rocky Long said they are now one of the team’s biggest strengths.

“They’re not young anymore,” Long said. “I think that’s one of the strengths of our team. They had a lot of ups and downs last year, but toward the end of the year, they were a pretty good unit and they’re all back, so we ought to be real good there.”

Two first-time starters that had breakout years were redshirt sophomore right guard Keith Ismael and redshirt sophomore left tackle Tyler Roemer.

Both Roemer and Ismael received 2018 first-team all-Mountain West preseason selections.

Ismael said playing against top-notch competition, such as Pac-12 teams Stanford and Arizona State, pushed the offensive line to grow and get better.

“We got tested a lot of times: seniors, all-conference Pac-12 players, all-Americans, we’ve played against them,” Ismael said. “We didn’t shy down and we never do, and I feel that’s a big part of the culture we have here at State, to compete as hard as we can.”

Senior right tackle Ryan Pope said the offensive line is more confident and smarter in identifying defenses.

“You can see it in our confidence,” he said. “You can see it in our technique. We’re a lot smarter. We can identify defenses better and quicker.”

The offensive line has already shown an ability to bounce back from adversity.

Last season, the line allowed 10 combined sacks in weeks two and three against Arizona State and Stanford University. However, the group allowed only three sacks combined in subsequent games against Air Force, Northern Illinois and UNLV.

Offensive coordinator Jeff Horton said the offensive line has grown and will use their experience to help them recognize opposing defenses.

“(They understand) recognition, understanding what (offensive line) coach (Mike) Schmidt wants, being able to have something to fall back on from the previous game or play,” Horton said. “When we see that again, they can anticipate it sooner, be able to make adjustments from the sideline.”

Horton said the line’s maturity and growth have attributed to the team’s success.

“I think off the field just, anytime you go from the squirrelly redshirt freshman to not-so squirrelly sophomore that, maturity-wise, you’re just growing up,” he said. “Hopefully understanding what’s important, not only in your life but football and the commitment it takes and the dedication.”

The quarterback the line will be protecting is senior Christian Chapman, who said he expects the big men up front to perform well this season.

“They know the expectations,” Chapman said. “As of right now, that’s probably the strong point of the offense, those linemen because all the boys are back.”

Chapman said that the experience the offensive line has gained will make the difference.

“They have in-game experience, especially how they were playing last year,” Chapman said. “They played really good ball, so I expect them to be really good this year.”

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