Freshmen Bolster Bobcat Offensive Line

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As a member of the Ohio Bobcats football team, it is not typical for freshmen to come in and contribute right away.

In fact, out of all the upperclassmen currently on the Bobcats roster, only nine players did not redshirt as freshmen.   

So when four true freshmen have seen playing time on the offensive line in each of the first five games, it’s noteworthy.  

And that’s just what has happened. True freshmen Jared McCray, Jake Pruehs, Joe Lowery and Stephen Langenkamp have all secured spots on Ohio’s two-deep depth chart in their first year.

“We had a need,” Ohio offensive line coach Dave Johnson said. “We need them to play. Now it may or may not be the best situation, but it is what it is, and they’ve responded, which is a credit to them.”

The Bobcats definitely had a need for the freshmen, as they lost key pieces such as John Prior and Ryan McGrath to graduation last season, and then lost the projected starting right guard Durrell Wood to a season-ending injury before the season even started.

Even with that need, Johnson and the rest of Ohio’s coaches just knew that this group of guys was just different than the typical freshmen.

“This is a smart group of players,” Johnson said. “This a group that stays locked in and listen to what we say, and does what we tell them. They make mistakes, but in terms of watching film and being able to analyze, they’re ahead of the curve.”

Perhaps the furthest ahead of the curve is Pruehs.

The freshman from North Olmsted, Ohio started Ohio’s season-opener against Kent State at right guard, and has started every game since as well.   

“Coach Solich is very big on toughness and physicality, and [Pruehs] has those attributes,” Johnson said. “He proved himself during training camp and stayed injury free.”

When Pruehs stepped on to the field at Kent State, he says he wasn’t nervous whatsoever.

“I was just so ready to go,” Pruehs said. “My adrenaline was going a million miles an hour, I was just pumped up to play.”

But once the game started, Pruehs admits he was a little overwhelmed. 

“The speed of the game was incredible,” he said. “I thought my high school was pretty top notch, but it was way more than I thought. I didn’t really know how to judge my performance on plays because I just didn’t know with the speed.”

The early playing time did come as a bit of a surprise to most of the freshmen, as most of them expected to redshirt or be buried on the depth chart.

“The upperclassmen told us throughout the summer we would be needed, but we just never pictured it,” said McCray. “But then we started getting reps with the twos, and some of us were jumping in with the ones and then it finally hit us that we would play this year.”

With that much youth along the offensive line, many expected the offensive line to be a weak spot in the Bobcats offense.  

Their inexperience showed over the first few weeks, as the running game struggled out of the gates, and the pass protection was inconsistent.

But over the last two weeks, the offensive line has appeared to find its rhythm, winning the battle in the trenches as the Bobcats ground game has grown to an average of 250 yards per game in the wins over Idaho and Eastern Illinois.

Add that to the mere three sacks that Ohio has given up through five games, and the offensive line is beginning to look like the strength.  

The early success amongst the young lineman hasn’t come as a surprise to many of the upperclassmen.  

“As soon as they stepped foot on campus, they were buried in the playbook and out here working with the upperclassmen,” junior center Lucas Powell said. “Freshmen usually stick together and ease in, but these guys jumped right in and were ready to go.”

From Johnson’s perspective, however, there’s still a lot of room to grow.

“At times they look okay, and at times they look out of position, or make a wrong call,” he said. “It’s a different atmosphere and different speed [than high school] but they’re progressing, and hopefully we increase their reps as we go into the season.