BEMIDJI – The movement on the Bemidji State offensive line for the 2012 season almost looks like steps to a very strange and intricate dance: Right to right, right to left, left to center, new guy, new guy.
The dizzying movement of players on the Beaver offensive line likely won’t become a new dance craze anytime soon. Instead, it serves an important purpose: minimizing the impact of losing two starters from 2011 while at the same time getting the most out of the three veterans on the line.
“In theory, all five guys are gone from where they were last year,” Bemidji State head coach Jeff Tesch said. “But three of the five guys played last year, just in different spots.”
Three of the main line contributors – center Cory Immerman, left tackle Davis Mickleson and right guard Jordan Anderson – necessitated this dance party.
But luckily the Beavers have three experienced players willing to learn the new steps.
Brett DeLange and Jordan Oien started all 11 games at left guard and right tackle, respectively, a season ago. Alonzo Melton battled injuries in 2011 but still played in seven games; he started all 11 games at right tackle as a sophomore in 2010.
All three are set to change roles in 2012. DeLange will move from left guard to center, Oien will move from right tackle to right guard and Melton will switch sides completely from right to left tackle.
“We’re coming along,” Oien said. “Zo (Melton) started for a year, this is my second year as a starter and it’s Brett’s fourth year.
“We’ve got a lot of experienced guys, and then we will have a few inexperienced guys in between them.”
Tesch said those other two spots – left guard and right tackle – aren’t completely decided yet.
“We’re battling away at left guard and right tackle with some guys,” Tesch said. “Mostly guys that have been waiting their turn in the system, but there may be some new guys that could be in there.”
Right now, Tyler Abrahamson and Alexander Lutton are in the running for left guard, while Dylan Peterson and Nick Chiono look to be good bets at right tackle.
Whoever ends up playing in those spots will be getting some valuable advice from the veterans.
“We have a lot of guys that have been here for a while, so there’s not a lot of things that should get thrown at us that will be new to us,” Melton said. “We’ve got to get everything down so when the games come there’s no questions asked.
“The younger guys, we’re trying to help them get to where we’re at. It will take time but I like how they’re looking so far.”
And if there are questions, which there bound to be asked in the early stages of camp, those veterans will be right there.
“Me knowing all the right tackle spots helps the right tackle,” Oien said. “So whenever he has a question I can just tell him right on the line. It’s nice to have that communication.”
Switching spots on the line isn’t exactly like switching from, say, wide receiver to kicker. The basic mechanics are still the same, but some of the moves may be a little different depending on the situation.
Oien said he likes playing guard more, just because he thinks he’s better built for it. But it may take a while to get used to having bodies on both sides of him.
“The only thing I miss is being covered. Being able to go and get guys right away,” he said. “As a guard you’ve got to be more patient and take your time. It’s just hard being patient. Being tackle you’ve got to be aggressive and go attack the guys. At guard you have to sort of sit back and see what’s going on.”
And switching sides of the field won’t be an issue. At least not for Melton, who has played both left and right tackle in his career.
“A lot of things stay the same,” he said. “I mean, depending on your scheme sometimes you’d want your best pass blocker to be at left tackle or your most athletic guy on a certain side. But there’s nothing major.
“In our scheme, a lot of stuff stays the same. There’s nothing special from left to right. It’s just about who’s more comfortable coming out of a certain stance and who can do the best. We just put whoever seems the most comfortable with it.”
The Beavers have more than two weeks to make sure there aren’t any holes on that line; the first game is Aug. 31 against Upper Iowa. Oien thinks they’re progressing well. He said quarterback Lance Rongstad has been especially helpful getting them in shape.
After all, their mission is protecting him (and the rest of the backfield) at all costs.
“Right now, we’re doing better than I thought we would,” Oien said. “The new guys, they’re coming along fast. And Lance has been really good at telling us what’s going on.
“We’ve got the talent. […] I think if we can get the communication down, we’ll be there.”
NOTES: Today, the Beavers will practice with full pads for the first time this fall. Previously, they’d been wearing helmets and shoulder pads only.
But now they can go full speed.
“ It means we get to add a few drills,” Tesch said. “We get to go on the ground. And we get to cut and tackle a little bit.”