OXFORD, Ohio – One of the keys during the first few days of Coach Chuck Martin’s first training camp at Miami has been building a consistent offensive line. This year the line will be led by three seniors, Zach Lewis, Marcus Matthews and Jeff Tanner, all of whom have starting experience. They plan on using that experience to help the younger guys, realizing that the rest of the line is depending on them for leadership and guidance.
“You have to make sure you do everything together, as a team and as a unit,” said Lewis. “You want to help the younger guys out, but also make sure to help each other out as we have to get better as well.”
Lewis has the most experience among the senior lineman with 28 career starts. Matthews is next with 25 career starts. He is returning after suffering an injury that cost him the final seven games last season. Tanner joined the starting lineup last season and has 10 career starts. Lewis enters the 2014 season at the top of the depth chart at left tackle. Tanner is slated to start at left guard, while Matthews will start at center.
“(The seniors) we don’t do a lot of talking, we lead more with our actions,” said Lewis. “However, we do help each other out whenever necessary to make sure everyone does the right thing.”
Doing a lot of the instruction this season is new offensive line coach George Barnett, who will also serve as a co-offensive coordinator. Barnett previously was the offensive coordinator at Illinois State and coached the offensive line the past four years. In fact, he has coached the offensive line for the past 15 years, including two with Coach Martin at Grand Valley State (2008-09). That experience has really helped the seniors acclimate quickly to the new system and allowed them to serve in more of a mentorship role with the underclassmen.
“I like the way Coach Barnett pushes us,” said Lewis. “He is intense, and that is what we need in the trenches. There is no messing around on the field. We just get the work done.”
The line will be tasked with keeping new starting quarterback, senior Andrew Hendrix, upright and giving him enough time to run Coach Martin’s offense. The senior offensive linemen have gotten the chance over the past several months to get to know Hendrix and take their responsibility seriously. They believe Hendrix will fit in well with the 2014 RedHawks.
“I really like Hendrix, he knows what he is doing and knows the offense, commented Matthews. “With him knowing what he is doing, it makes it easier for us to know what we are doing.”
To improve their performance, each of the senior linemen completed Director of Strength and Conditioning Paul Harker’s grueling offseason conditioning training. With the goal to put on several pounds of muscle mass among all the lineman, Matthews saw the biggest gains. After playing the 2013 season at 307 pounds, he comes into this year at 323 pounds on his 6-3 frame.
“We’ve really tried to amp (all our conditioning) up for this season since last year did not go quite as we planned,” said Matthews. “We had to get things going in the right direction (during the offseason) and we are real excited with the results.”
Building a consistent offensive attack, both on the ground and in the air does not happen unless the unsung heroes of the trenches are able to do their job. The three seniors are ready to step into the leadership roles along the line, but realize it is going to take a team effort to see success in 2014.
“The most important thing we can do is to do things right and lead by example,” said Matthews. “If you do things right, they’ll eventually follow behind you and do things correctly.”