The Thick Red Line
Nov. 4, 2000
By Rachel Azevedo, Fresno State Media Relations
Quarterbacks, receivers and running backs are usually the guys who score points for the team. They are the most recognized players, the ones who compile a lot of statistics and are also the subjects of attention from the public and the media. While these players are noteworthy, the real brute force of the offense comes from the line. Without the offensive line there would be no touchdowns or wins. And without the offensive line, the offense would do nothing.
The five positions of the offensive line include the center, right and left guards and right and left tackles. Five vital cogs in that line are, Rodney Michael, Russell Harding, Mike Stovall, Ahmad Bhatti and Kevin Jordan.
Michael, a sophomore, is in his second year as the starting center. As a freshman he started in 10 games and assisted the team to a record low 13 quarterback sacks allowed. He was named second-team preseason All-WAC by Lindy's.
Harding, a junior, has spent the majority of his Fresno State football career rehabilitating an injury to his right knee. During the first game of his freshman year, Harding dislocated and tore all the ligaments in his knee. After a using redshirt year and taking his sophomore year off, Harding made a comeback to start at right guard again this season. He provides inspiration to the team as well as knowledge and experience to the offensive line.
Stovall, also a junior, is new to the position of left guard after taking Harding's place at right guard last season. Stovall also boasts the most career game starts on the offensive line with 22. He was also a member of last year's solid line.
Bhatti is one of two seniors on the line and moved from guard to tackle this season. Last year he started three games before a finger injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. Bhatti has already earned first-team preseason All-WAC honors by Athlon's and The Sporting News. During the UCLA game, he held All-American Kenyon Coleman to just three tackles.
The other senior on the O-line is Jordan, who transitioned from right tackle to left this season. He has allowed only two quarterback sacks in his career, giving up just one in over 340 pass plays last season. Jordan is projected to be a high NFL draft choice.
The offense has been stellar so far this season mainly due to the capabilities of the line. Coming into tonight's game, the Bulldogs have racked up 1,996 yards on offense, averaging 332.7 yards per game. Quarterback David Carr has had ample time to pass for a total of 1,422 yards, an average of 237 per game.
Although the offensive line does not have statistics of their own, the players know what is important is the team doing well as a whole. The offensive lineman realize they are not at a position to be in the spotlight, but it doesn't bother them.
"We don't get that much limelight, but when the team has a good game passing and running, you know that the offensive linemen had a part in that," said Jordan.
"Sure, we would like to score points, but when you're 6-foot something and 300-something pounds, that's just not going to happen," said Bhatti.
"Yeah, I don't even know what the ball looks like," said Harding with a chuckle.
The line has one important task at hand: to pave the way for big offensive plays. This requires them to be involved in every single offensive play. While other positions such as running backs and receivers rotate in and out, the offensive linemen stay in the game throughout it's entirety, only coming off the field when the defense steps on. Because of this, they need to be in prime condition. The typical stereotype of overgrown offensive linemen does not apply to the Bulldogs. According to Jordan, they have to be strong, tough and aggressive in order to effectively block their competitors.
"Some people don't think that it's important for us to be in shape because they see O-lineman as fat and sloppy," said Jordan. "But we are fit and trim because we play the whole game, so we have to be in good condition."
Injuries have been somewhat of a factor in the performance of the offensive line, but as a whole they have been quite consistent.
"We've had injuries here and there that have affected our continuity, but we're getting used to it," said Bhatti. "Right now everyone's pretty healthy, but we're always missing one or two guys."
As for the rest of the season, the offensive line shows intent for improvement, as well as desire for big things to happen, particularly concerning a championship.
"There are things we need to improve upon, and we're going to work to get better," said Michael. "We're going to practice hard and work as one."
"I project the offense continuing to pass the ball well, getting a better running game and going for a WAC title," said Jordan.
With the assistance of the offensive line, the Bulldogs have nothing standing in their way.