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Toledo offensive line looks to reload, not rebuild

08/18/2017, 9:24am EDT

Rockets lost 3 starters but should boast depth, versatility

Senior Elijah Nkansah is expected to start at one of the tackle spots for the University of Toledo this fall. Nkansah started eight games at right tackle last season and missed four games because of injury. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

University of Toledo offensive line coach Mike Hallett knows that five — or even six or seven — offensive linemen are not enough to get through the physical and mental rigors of a college football season, so he is on a constant quest to develop quality depth on the front line of the offense.

“Being a guy that was a history major, I believe in the military adage that two is one, and one is none,” Hallett said. “So if you are going to play five offensive linemen, you are really looking to get 10 guys developed that are game ready. We are getting close to that. We’re not quite there yet.

“I feel like when we are healthy, we are solid at nine, and identifying that 10th guy is where we have to find the next guy up.”

After losing senior mainstays Storm Norton, Mike Ebert, and Paul Perschon, new players will have to step in and fill the gaps on the line.

Seniors Elijah Nkansah, Nate Jeppesen, and Brant Weiss have emerged as the players with the most experience. Nkansah and Weiss are slated to play in the tackle spots, while Jeppesen will play center.

“Elijah and Brant and Nate, those three guys have a vast wealth of experience,” Hallett said. “They are our most experienced guys and they are shining as leaders right now for our group.”

Weiss stepped into more playing time last season as several linemen battled injuries. He appeared in 11 games and started five.

Weiss said he learned a lot from playing alongside the senior trio of Norton, Ebert, and Perschon.

“They all had great character, and that’s one thing I really learned,” Weiss said. “They took their notes seriously, and just their approach to the game is something that I admired, and really looked up to, and tried to do myself.”

Jeppesen and sophomore Bryce Harris both spent time playing center last season, but Hallett said Jeppesen has separated himself with his play this offseason.

“Nate Jeppesen is playing his face off right now,” Hallett said. “He is at a level that all our guys are aspiring to be. Nate is a guy who has been grinding away for four years and played significantly last year in his first time really being a full-time starter. I think Nate has solidly established himself as the center of our offensive line.”

At guard, Hallett may mix and match a number of different players, including Harris, junior Yazeed Atariwa, senior Sami Kassem, and sophomore Chandler Cotterman.

“Our mission is to put the five best guys out there that we can,” Hallett said. “With Bryce, and with Chandler and with Yazeed and Sami, we have a lot of different people we can plug into those guard spots.”

While Weiss appears to be the favorite to start at right tackle, he said he is ready to play wherever is needed. It’s that kind of approach that Hallett is looking to develop among his players. He hopes to be able to take advantage of the versatility of the line.

“We tell our guys the more you know, the more you can play,” Hallett said. “A guy like Elijah can play inside, and a guy like Yazeed can play outside at tackle. It gives us the ability to move some guys around and make sure we have our best lineup on the field in critical situations. We have a lot of variables we can plug in to get the best matchups.”

As last year proved with some injuries on the line, the depth and versatility of the unit often comes into play at some point during each season.

“It’s absolutely crucial,” Weiss said. “It’s kind of the next-guy-up mentality. It’s a reload mentality. There can’t be any slack from the ones to twos to threes. Everyone has to be on their game every day. If you are not, then you get left behind.”

Hallett mentioned Cotterman, sophomore Cameron Bell, and sophomore Brandon Heidecker as younger players who could see time on the field. He said he is proud of how the upperclassmen are helping the younger players.

“Our older guys are doing a great job of leading the young guys,” Hallett said. “I think it’s an all-in mentality. Our guys understand that not only is it their time, but they are helping build the future. They understand their legacy and the importance of that.

“Nate Jeppesen, Brant, Elijah, Sami, Yazeed, all those guys are taking ownership in helping the young guys come along. That’s one of the things that has been really impressive is how much attention the older guys are paying to our younger guys to speed up the learning curve.”

Contact Brian Buckey at bbuckey@theblade.com419-724-6110 or on Twitter @BrianBuckey.

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Toledo's Logan Woodside will look to an offensive line with some new faces to protect him during the 2017 season. BLADE PHOTO

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