Clay Hendrix is heading into his 23rd season coaching college offensive lines, but he doesn't think he's ever had a rebuilding project like the one he’s undertaking at Air Force.
All five of the Falcons’ 2009 starters were seniors.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had all five gone,” Hendrix said. “Several times four.”
But Hendrix is optimistic about his neophyte offensive line and encouraged by the progress it made during the Falcons’ spring practices, which concluded Tuesday.
“I felt good about it,” Hendrix said. “We stayed relatively healthy, and we made a little progress each and every day.”
Hendrix said junior right tackle Chase Darden (6-foot-3, 255 pounds), sophomore right guard A.J. Wallerstein (6-4, 285), sophomore center Michael Hester (6-3, 240) and freshman left tackle Jason Kons (6-4, 250) established themselves as starters heading into the fall, while junior Tyler Schonsheck (6-1, 265) has a slight lead over freshman Nick Jackson (6-4, 270) at left guard.
Those who saw the most time with the backups included junior tackle Alex Arndt (6-4, 255), freshman guard Jordan Eason (6-3, 275), sophomore center Jeffrey Benson (6-0, 265) and freshman tackle Chase Douglass (6-6, 265).
The linemen clearly lack game experience, as only Wallerstein has logged meaningful playing time. But Hendrix noted most of the projected starters played last season with the second-team offense, which gets about as many snaps in practices as the starting unit. In addition, Hendrix said he has more depth – which leads to more competition – than in recent years, and that, in general, the linemen have “longer bodies and move around a little better. … We’re getting a little more talented.”
Also helping, Hendrix said, will be talent in the backfield. Air Force returns all the players who gained rushing yards in 2009, including starting fullback Jared Tew, starting tailback Asher Clark and its top two Z receivers (Jonathan Warzeka and Kyle Halderman). In addition, freshmen tailbacks Darius Jones and Cody Getz both emerged as potential change-up threats in the spring.
Jones, who hails from Atlanta, is the better blocker of the two, according to Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, while Getz, from Buford, Ga., is a bit quicker. Both need to get bigger and stronger in the offseason. Jones is listed at 5-9, 160, and Getz is listed at 5-7, 170.
“They don’t have to get huge,” Calhoun said. “But they do need to put on some more weight so they block better and run through arm tackles a little better.”
Still, both have flashed big-play potential, which makes Hendrix happy.
“I’ve had offensive lines over the years where we blocked the heck out of people and still gained 3 yards,” Hendrix said. “Now we have some playmakers. We still want to block people, but now we feel like we don’t have to knock everybody down.”