With a strong offseason in the weight room, an infusion of newcomers and more experience in general, UCF’s offensive line is ready to prove that it won’t be intimidated by anyone, especially not its own defensive teammates.
Last year, it was evident early on in spring practice that UCF’s front four was clearly the more dominant unit when matched up with the offensive line. During inter-squad scrimmages, players like Torrell Troup and Bruce Miller beat up on an inexperienced, under-manned group of linemen, making life difficult for the entire offense. Things have changed since then and just over a year later, the hogs are starting to win their fair share of battles.
After 2007, when Knight fans saw perhaps the most dominating line in the school’s history, the team took a step back. The Knights lost several starters to graduation, had L.J. Shelton leave school early and then witnessed Cliff McCray leave the team after his roommate Ereck Plancher passed away. With just one returning starter, it’s no wonder why UCF’s offense had a difficult time getting anything going last year.
But that was last year and this is now, and early on in summer camp, the Knights appear, bigger, stronger, and a lot nastier than in 2008. Jah Reid and Nick Pieschel both have experience at tackle and they seemed to put on a lot of muscle this summer. Ian Bustillo will be a leader for the Knights and the team will get a huge shot of adrenaline amongst its guards. Moose Robinson, who was a highly-touted recruit last year, looks stellar early on and he is being accompanied by junior college transfer, Abre Leggins, who is a load up front. With McCray returning to the team, the Knights look vastly improved from last year and the staff has taken notice.
“I really like our girth up there,” said George O’Leary after the team’s first practice in full pads this summer. “I thought they did a good job, they’re blocking some pretty good people up there.”
Coaches aren’t the only one who have seen the gains that the line has made this offseason.
“I realized today the strides they had made when we were in one-on-one in pass rush,” said defensive end Bruce Miller. ”I just think they have improved so much all the way down the line; tackle, guard, center…those guys are really coming along.”
Miller, who is regarded as a fun-loving trash talker has found that his opponents in practice are now talking back, something that wasn’t common last season.
“They are (talking more,) because they’re starting to win a lot more, especially in one-on-ones,” added Miller. “If they don’t win, they’re not going to talk trash to us but they are and they’re really doing a good job and it’s easier for them to pick at us a little more.”
Steve ‘Moose’ Robinson is one of UCF’s linemen that has found himself answering back to the defense’s trash talk.
“Last year, the offense wasn’t really stepping up and the defense was coming in and smacking them in the mouth and they wouldn’t respond,” said Robinson. “This year though, it’s completely different. We aren’t getting ran over this year, it’s a pride thing. They talk trash but we come back and smack them in the mouth.”
Going up against such an imposing defensive line has made the young offensive linemen all the better and now Robinson and his fellow linemen feel a responsibility to elevate the offense and thus, the entire team.
“We owe it to them to go out there and crush people this year, to open up some holes and score touchdowns,” said Robinson.
Robinson also talked about the unit’s improved chemistry and trust in one another. UCF’s staff has also pointed to a strong offseason in the weight room as a primary reason for the group’s turnaround.
“The linemen look different physically from the spring,” said offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe. “Their work this summer has been outstanding. A guy like Nick Pieschel is starting to look like a big-time tackle now. The work they’re doing in the weight room will hopefully pay dividends, it has to pay dividends.”
Whether it’s being bigger, having more experience or playing as a cohesive unit, UCF’s offensive line has shown this summer that it will not lay down this year and that no one, not even one of the most dominant defensive lines in the conference that they line up against daily, will intimidate them.
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