Two years ago, San Diego State opened the season with an offensive line that was young and untested and further diminished by the six-game suspension of its most experienced member.
The Aztecs got off to a 1-3 start, prompting some fans, and some other observers, to sound alarm bells. SDSU’s running game, so vaunted now, averaged but 140 yards a game during those first four contests.
Then the line found its footing. The Aztecs averaged 271 rushing yards a game the remainder of the 2015 season and 263 yards a game last season. SDSU has won 21 of 24 games since that 1-3 start.
This year, SDSU’s offensive line will feature four new starters, with senior right guard Antonio Rosales the only returning starter, and head coach Rocky Long points to the unit as the most critical concern coming into the season.
Asked about the parallels between two years ago and today, SDSU offensive line coach Mike Schmidt said “it’s pretty similar.”
“Every year is a new challenge, though,” said Schmidt, a former SDSU offensive lineman (2005-08) in his sixth year directing the O-line. “This year, we’ve got some talented young guys. They just have no game experience. So it’s my job to simulate it as much as possible and get them as ready as possible for the games.”
Long is expected to update the depth chart on Wednesday. Rosales (6-fot-4, 305) likely will be joined by sophomore left guard Daishawn Dixon (6-5, 320), junior right tackle Ryan Pope (6-7, 315) and a pair of redshirt freshmen in left tackle Tyler Roemer (6-7, 305) and center Keith Ismael (6-3, 310).
That is the quintet that started Saturday’s Fan Fest scrimmage. The starters were to scrimmage only the first quarter, but long kept Roemer and Ismael in for more than half the plays to get them as many reps as possible.
“They’re physically ready to compete,” Schmidt said. “We’ve got to get them mentally ready. There’s no tougher task than coming out here against that (SDSU) defense and playing against it everyday.
“Us being on them and putting them in stressful situations, that’s what’s going to get them over that hump to let that talent show up on Saturdays.”
It’s been important to get playing time for the backup linemen as well, mixing and matching and moving them around to see who fits best where and is versatile enough to play multiple positions.
“We’re trying to find not only the first best tackle but also the third,” Schmidt said. “Also, early in camp all the schemes have been in, so we’re trying to see how much guys can handle. Can they be your backup left tackle and center. We’re trying to get the five best on the field and if that guy’s the fifth best, we want him on the field somewhere. We don’t want him to just focus on one position and (if the starter) doesn’t go down, he’s not in.”
Schmidt said the time for focusing on fundamentals and schemes is over now.
“They know what to do and they know how to do it,” he said. “Now we’ve got to do it with the right intensity and that’s something we’re harping on daily. Sometimes intensity can overcome a lot of technique errors.”
Soon enough, we’ll see if it also can overcome a slow start.
SDSU No. 36 in AP poll
The Aztecs, ranked No. 25 in 2016 season-ending polls, will have to work their way back into the top 25 this season.
SDSU was ranked No. 36, tied with UCLA with nine points, in the AP preseason top 25 poll released on Monday.
The highest ranked opponent on SDSU’s 2017 schedule is No. 14 Stanford, which comes to town Sept. 16. Boise State, which visits SDSU on Oct. 14,, was ranked No. 29.
Last season, the Aztecs debuted at No. 31 (46 points) in the preseason AP poll. SDSU jumped into the top 25 at No. 22 after beating Northern Illinois in Week 3, moved up to No. 19 during a bye week that preceded the South Alabama game and then disappeared again after losing to the Jaguars.
The Aztecs reappeared in Week 12 after improving to 9-1, then dropped out again with a loss to Wyoming. SDSU’s 34-10 win over Houston in the Las Vegas enabled the Aztecs to finish the season at No. 25, the first time in 30 years the team finished the season in the top 25.
SDSU junior wide receiver Fred Trevillion wore a smile as he warmed up for Monday night’s practice. And why not? It was Trevillion’s first opportunity to be with his teammates in more than a week. Trevillion was the last of the five Aztecs players confirmed with chickenpox to return to practice.
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