Western Kentucky is looking for a new quarterback this spring, but looking for bodies to block for whomever wins that battle won’t be as big an issue.
The Hilltoppers return four offensive linemen who played in at least 11 games in 2012, part of a unit that was 45th in the nation in rushing and 60th in sacks allowed per game.
“We’ve done some good things, but we’re not anywhere close to where we need to be,” WKU offensive line coach Neil Callaway said. “We’ve got some guys in Sean Conway and Luis Polanco that have played. They’re learning the new system. They’re struggling like the other guys, but they’re doing some good things, too. If we play hard and play with energy, that’s a good thing.”
Conway (6-foot-3, 305 pounds) and Polanco (6-2, 292) return as seniors for WKU, along with junior Cameron Clemmons, who is being held out of spring practice with a shoulder injury. Senior Ed Hazelett (6-8, 324) also played a major role on a WKU team that built its identity on physical, run-oriented football.
“We’ve been good,” Conway said of spring practice. “Just like coach said, we’ve been struggling a bit with the new offense, but practice makes perfect. We’re just going to keep coming out and grinding until we get it right. There’s a lot of different techniques that go with a new offense. There’s a lot of new plays that we’re not accustomed to. It’ll just take some time.”
Coach Bobby Petrino also signed junior college transfers Connor Popeck and John Delaney to provide added depth, and both are with the team this spring. The 15 offensive linemen on the current roster have been adjusting to a quicker way of doing things as well.
“I think we’re starting to get more used to the tempo of coach Petrino’s offense,” Conway said. “It’s a lot more faster and I think we’re starting to get used that. Starting to know who to go to more, we’re starting to get the right technique down.”
The entire unit is charged with leading the way for the one quarterback who emerges from an ongoing battle.
“They’ve got to be the tough backbone of the team, and I think those guys have some guys that like to be physical, they like to come off the ball, knock people back,” WKU quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm said. “I think they’ve got to be the strength of the team. With the running game, with the ability to run with our running backs that we have and to throw play-action up the field, it’s an O-linemen’s dream, instead of just pass blocking every single play.
“I think they’ve done well, they’re working hard and they just have to keep it up.”
Team scrimmages for first time
Part of Saturday’s practice, the sixth of the spring under Petrino, involved a scrimmage for the second half of the session.
The offense went against the defense in full pads while a small crowd watched from the stands on the stadium’s old side.
“I thought it was great,” Brohm said. “To get in live situations, to get our guys out there where things aren’t scripted, they’ve got to hear the play, they’ve got to make the calls quickly and they’ve got to play fast and also play efficiently.
“I think it’s a great thing to do as much as we can. We had some guys make plays, that’s important. But I think right now it’s about our guys working as hard as they can every single day, us pushing them and them pushing themselves. When it comes time to play the game, they have to play fast, tough, but also with belief in themselves. When you push guys every day, when they attack the field on game day, they believe in themselves.”
The three quarterbacks vying for a starting position this spring have continued to adjust to life under Petrino as well, and each got their reps in during Saturday’s scrimmage.
Neither junior Brandon Doughty, redshirt sophomore James Mauro or redshirt sophomore DaMarcus Smith have separated themselves in the fight for the No. 1 spot.
“I think the quarterbacks are working extremely hard,” Brohm said. “They’re attacking it every day with a good attitude and we’re going to try and put pressure on them every day to perform at a high level and I think they’re responding very well. I think if we just keep working hard, we’ll get it done.”
The Hilltoppers are scheduled to return to the field at 5:45 a.m. Thursday.