Colorado State football has potential to be one of the most explosive offenses in the Mountain West this season, but for that to be possible the Rams must determine who will be starting on the offensive line. After losing three starters from one year ago, the Rams have multiple vacancies to fill along the starting five and less than one month to do so.
During the second half of the 2016 season, CSU was one of the most dominant offenses in the country and a large part of that had to due with stellar play from the big uglies. Behind the primary starting five of Jake Bennett, Nick Callender, Zack Golditch, Paul Thurston and Fred Zerblis, the Rams offense allowed only one sack per-game, which was eighth best in the nation.
Rarely having to deal with opposing defenses in his face, quarterback Nick Stevens thrived, ranking fifth in the country and first in the Mountain West in passer efficiency rating (171.3), helping guide the Rams to one of the most dominant offensive seasons in school history.
After averaging 35.3 points, 463 yards and just under five touchdowns per game in 2016, the Rams return the majority of skill players, including a trio of running backs and wide receivers. In the trenches CSU returns only two starters, Bennett and Golditch though.
With 60 appearances and 54 starts between the two lineman, Bennett and Golditch are two of the most experienced players on the Rams roster, but replacing three starting offensive lineman will certainly be a tall task for offensive coordinator Will Friend.
At CSU football’s annual media day Tuesday, Friend explained that he is really comfortable with the depth that the Rams have at the skill positions, but not necessarily along the offensive line.
“We have a standard that we expect them to play up to on the offensive side of the ball,” Friend said. “The standard is we expect to be a good offense. We expect to be productive and execute. It’s good that we have some guys back, but the scary part is we lost some guys in the offensive front. We lost a lot of guys that have played a lot.”
While replacing three starting linemen will be a process for the Rams coaching staff, Friend recognizes the value of returning players like Bennett and Golditch. According to Friend, offensive lineman are kind of like a “team within a team”, and the leader of that unit is Bennett.
“Jake (Bennett) does a great job of being that leader,” Friend said. “I think he does a great job of trying to set the tone for what the younger player should be like.”
Friend went on in detail about how Bennett is the shining example of how every player should approach practice, meetings and games. “Going into year three for him (Bennett), he knows how we want to practice and knows what we want them to know going into a practice,” Friend said.
Having a player like Bennett to help lead a group of young lineman is invaluable for the team. It is also something that he takes deep pride in both as an individual and as someone that grew up watching the glory days of the CSU football under Sonny Lubick.
“There’s a tradition here of pretty good offensive lineman and I think to let that lack at all would be disrespectful to the guys that have come before us,” Bennett said.
In recent years, Bennett’s CSU teammates Ty Sambrailo (2015) and Weston Richburg (2014) were each selected in the second round of the NFL Draft. In total, CSU currently has ten former players on NFL rosters.
CSU fans will have their first opportunity to see CSU’s big uglies with the team’s open house scrimmage on Saturday Aug. 5. The Rams will open the 2017 season against Oregon State on Aug. 26.
Collegian sports director Justin Michael can be reached by email at email@example.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.