Senior-laden offensive line looks to pave way
Fantasy football drafts don’t feature offensive linemen. There aren’t many official statistics or personal milestones for guards, tackles and centers to attain. Outside of pregame introductions, the only time a lineman’s number is even uttered on the public address system is because of penalties.

Despite the lack of gaudy numbers, the JU football team will depend on a veteran line to protect quarterback Josh McGregor and the rest of the offensive playmakers. All five projected starters are seniors, marking the most experienced unit on head coach Kerwin Bell’s team.

Anchoring that line is Chad Cypher, a preseason first team All-American by Beyond Sports Network, who will be entrusted with watching McGregor’s blind slide by moving to left tackle. Cypher was the starting right tackle on the Pioneer Football League championship squad last season and will now take over the spot that Leonard Payton excelled at as a senior in 2010.

“We think left tackle is his natural position and he’s having a great camp so far,” Bell said. “He’s got a lot of ability. He’s 6-5, 310 pounds; he’s the perfect left tackle.”

Cypher, from Fort Myers, Fla., has started in all of his first three seasons. He was a key member of two PFL champions (2008 and 2010) and said the culture surrounding the Dolphins is drastically different now than when he arrived as a freshman. Instead of just hoping for a good season, JU is now openly talking about earning a coveted spot in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs for the first time in school history.

“The expectations have risen each year,” Cypher said. “When I first got here, we were just trying to build a program. Now, it’s an expectation to win the conference and compete for a playoff spot.”

Spencer Hodges will take over at right tackle while Ian Osking and Kevin Halverson will man the guard positions. After three years as a reserve, Kyle Nanton will step in and try and fill the center position.

The unit will try and keep pressure off McGregor. JU allowed just 25 sacks last year for a high-octane offense that compiled more than 486 yards per game last year.

Both McGregor and first-string running back J.J. Laster are seniors. Cypher said after playing with the duo for the past three years, the knowledge of the playbook and in each other’s tendencies will help make protection schemes easier to execute.

“When you have a lot of reps and been in many games with these guys, we can almost read what we’re going to do,” Cypher said. “By having that experience, it makes it a lot easier for us. We’ve been through the ups and downs and that allows us to succeed at a high level.”

The five-man group will again attempt to keep the star quarterback upright and in contention for national records. McGregor enters the new campaign on the Walter Payton Award Watch List and is the active collegiate career leader in completions (555), passing yards (8,186), touchdowns (87) and career passing efficiency (156.42).

Cypher utilized his skills garnered as a communications major studying public relations, deflecting credit to the entire offensive line. The Fort Myers, Fla. native said the entire line takes pride in helping McGregor and the offense put up gaudy statistics even if those eye-popping numbers aren’t specifically attributed to them.

“One guy doesn’t make an offensive line; we need everybody,” Cypher said. “We try to do the right thing and lead by example.” Bell said after playing 30 games in his first three seasons, Cypher is ready for the challenging of facing opponents’ top defensive ends and helping to recognize blitz packages and helping the line to make reads.

“We’re looking for him to have a big-time year,” Bell said. “That’s an important position for us the way we throw the football and he truly is the kind of player we feel good about.’’

Though not on the depth chart’s first string, freshmen lineman Zach Dyer, Billy Nenos, Logan Williamson, Mark Bodkin and Kevin Battle have been working through their first collegiate training camp and trying to learn from the more experienced members.

“The freshmen have been amazing and they’re going to be impact players here,” Cypher said. You can see glimpses of it already. We’re just trying to set the bar high and hopefully they can take over when we leave.”

- Brian Bohl