The offensive line is the most experienced position group for the Bison football team this season. With most of the line returning, it’s made one of its All-Americans start to think it could be the strongest group in NDSU history.
The North Dakota State offensive line will be the most experienced it has been in years. Projected starters Joe Haeg, Zack Johnson, Austin Kuhnert, Jeremy Kelly and Landon Lechler will enter this season with 104 combined starts, the most of any Bison offensive line unit over the past four national championship seasons.
During the championship stretch, the 2013 Bison offense was the best it has ever been. They came into the season returning 100 starts on the offensive line and went on to score 38 points and 450 yards per game, and converted third downs at a 55 percent rate.
The 2015 offensive line is looking to lead the offense to a similar statistical explosion with four starters returning and a former all-conference selection in Zack Johnson coming back from missing last season with a microfracture in his knee.
“He brings a lot of experience and size,” senior left tackle Joe Haeg said. “It’ll definitely be nice having a guy that’s comfortable with the position. Obviously, I had to deal with some switches last year, but he’s a great player, he’s a great addition to the offensive line and I’m excited to see him play.”
Johnson will play left guard next to Joe Haeg this year and is bookended on the other side by center Austin Kuhnert, who replaced Johnson last season.
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[text_output]NDSU has had four different starting centers over the past four years, and the adjustment is more than sliding down the offensive line for Kuhnert. He will be expected to communicate with quarterback Carson Wentz this season to avoid illegal procedure penalties that plagued the Bison last season. Most notably, the false start penalty that nearly handcuffed the Bison on the first play of the winning drive against Illinois State in the championship game.
The last time Johnson was in the lineup was in 2013 when left tackle Haeg was on the right side of the line. Haeg said there will be an adjustment period, but thinks their skill will override the lack of chemistry on the left side.
“A lot of it is just learning how they play and when we do double-team, just how they go about it,” Haeg said. “Zack Johnson’s always been great at it and I’m excited about what we can do.”
Wentz said he’s extremely excited about his “Rams” up front this season, especially after the giant question mark that loomed over the position group during his first year as the starting quarterback.
“We get back Zack Johnson, so we shouldn’t even miss a beat. We should just keep getting better there,” Wentz said. “Not only does that help us physically because of what they can do, but mentally. And everything as far as me being able to communicate at the line with the likes of my receivers, my tight ends, my running backs and then those five up front got to communicate more than anybody.”
Haeg is reluctant to call this the best offensive line he’s been a part of in his three years of starting experience but knows they’re close.
“I definitely think it has the potential to be the best offensive line since I’ve been here,” Haeg said. “I think that’s one of our goals, to not only dominant in general, but to be one of the best offensive lines North Dakota State’s ever had.”[/text_output]