Fort Hays State’s depth on the offensive line was tested before the Tigers could even get through Week 1 this season.
Fort Hays saw two of its three returning starters on the line go down with injuries in the season opener, forcing the Tigers to shuffle players around.
Things have since stabilized, with junior O-lineman Romello Burke calling the unit a "work in progress."
"Everything we’re doing right now is the little things," Burke said. "Having the confidence to beat somebody across from you — everybody has it. It’s just the spirit of the offensive line right now is young.
“Everybody’s still learning and getting the plays right. That’s the main focus right now, making sure we’re doing the little things.”
The Tigers suffered two big blows in the opener against Central Missouri with injuries to senior center Nathan Hale (arm) and sophomore left tackle Pat Kelly (leg). Both players have remained out, though Hale could be close to a return, FHSU coach Chris Brown has said.
The ripple effect of the injuries caused Burke to move from right guard to center with redshirt freshmen Toby Godwin and Caden Gober stepping into play at right guard and left tackle. Senior Geoffrey Lodge is occupying the right tackle spot while sophomore Amari Angram-Boldin, who converted to offense after playing on the defensive line last year, is manning the left guard spot.
Brown said last Saturday’s 15-0 victory over Central Oklahoma was another step forward for the retooled offensive line, but Brown is still looking for the unit to ramp up the physicality heading into a road matchup at Emporia State at 2 p.m. Saturday in ESU’s Welch Stadium.
“Hopefully as these weeks go on they get better,” Brown said. “It comes down to mentality and wanting to beat the guy across from you every single play and being physical every single play. It’s all mentality. You either got it or you don’t. We’re trying to instill it in a few of these guys. They just need to figure it out and just do it.
“I told a couple of them in the locker room, ‘If you just do it once or twice you might like it and it will become fun.' It got better in the second half but they still need to turn it up just a little bit more.”
Burke, a 6-foot-2, 330-pound native of Sarasota, Fla., has the most experience on the line. He said it’s been a smooth transition moving over to center.
“I played center my freshman year,” Burke said. “Getting back to the center role was really not a big deal, it was just making sure I knew what everybody was doing. Making sure everybody’s on the same page.”
After a slow start in the run game, the Tigers have made progress on the ground, with Charles Tigner rushing for 315 yards over the last three games.
“If we can get the running game going, the passes will open up. The deep balls, the big plays will open up,” Burke said.
The offense, as a whole, is searching for consistency. The Tigers moved the ball and controlled the clock against UCO but were forced to settle for field five goals.
The Tigers rank seventh in the MIAA in scoring offense (26.6 points per game) and total offense (395.4 yards per game).
“I know there’s more in them than what they’re giving us,” Brown said. “I know guys can make better plays than what we’ve seen so far. They just got to let it loose and need to just quit thinking about it so much and just start playing.”