MUNCIE – You could make a legitimate argument when analyzing the Ball State football squad heading into the 2013 season, that the Cardinals have as good of a quarterback (Keith Wenning), running back (Jahwan Edwards), wide receiver (Willie Snead) and tight end (Zane Fakes) as any program in the Mid-American Conference.
However, any one that follows the sport of football also knows that none of those weapons will reach their potential of the Cardinal offensive line – which is a new unit this spring – struggles to create holes for Edwards, buys time for Wenning to find Snead and Fakes or fails to keep Wenning healthy and upright.
So this new group of guys only has the pressure of learning new roles, plus the fate of the program in 2013 riding upon their massive shoulders.
“Our expectations as a group are the exact same as last year,” senior guard Jordan Hansel said. “The chemistry is all still there. We’re all still a family. We’re all still brothers. We’re all still best friends. Just like last year. But the worst part about it is that we lost some best friends.”
Yes, they did.
The new group of “best friends” will be unveiled on Saturday during the Ball State Spring Game at Schuemann Stadium at 3 p.m. (free to public).
Hansel has been one of the best linemen in the league for each of the past two seasons, but he is the 6-foot-4, 326-pound senior is the only returning starter.
After losing tackles Austin Holtz and Cam Lowry, guard Kitt O’Brien, and center Dan Manick, there are several players that, though they did play a year ago, will be heavily counted upon as starters this season.
“Spring time is about getting these young guys some reps,” Hansel explained. “They were on scout team (last year), so it’s really, really important that they get some actual reps in our plays.”
Now, before the Cardinal Nation heads to The Chug to cry in their beers at the thought of Wenning playing behind a bunch of neophytes, it needs to be made clear that due to injuries last fall, some of these new players received a solid amount of experience in critical situations.
Redshirt sophomore Jacob Richard (6-foot-1, 285-pounds) is replacing Manick at center, which is something that he did for three games last fall.
Matthew Page should start at one tackle spot, which is something he did against Central Michigan and during the regular season finale at Miami (Ohio) last November, plus the 6-foot-6, 300-pounder is a fifth-year senior.
Aside from Hansel at guard, redshirt sophomore Jalen Schlachter (6-foot-6, 317 pounds) will more than likely start at the other guard spot.
“Four of the five (players) either started or played significantly last year,” Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. “Of those four, I’d say Jalen has played the least, but he’s going into his third year in our program.”
The final job along the line is waiting to be grabbed by either redshirt freshman Drake Miller (6-foot-4, 289 pounds) or classmate Steve Bell (6-foot-4, 290 pounds).
“It could end up being a situation where they both end up playing,” Lembo said.
Lembo feels confident in his first unit, but just as last year showed when injuries occurred, you better have a Plan B or the season could go awry in a hurry.
“We felt so fortunate last year, that we had nine guys that we felt good could go into a game and really not miss a beat,” Lembo said. “One of the keys to this year’s team is going to be developing that same depth.”