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Eastern Washington’s offensive line features depth, talent

Eastern Washington offensive linemen block for quarterback Gage Gubrud against Portland State during the Nov. 18, 2017, game at Roos Field in Cheney. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Eastern Washington offensive linemen block for quarterback Gage Gubrud against Portland State during the Nov. 18, 2017, game at Roos Field in Cheney. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

In some ways, Jase Butorac and the Eastern Washington offensive linemen are growing up together.

Only four years ago, Butorac was lining up under center. Now he’s going into his second year as the Eagles’ O-line coach.

“With a full year, I feel a lot more confident and with a better understanding of things,” said Butorac, who took over last spring when Aaron Best was promoted to head coach.

Since then, the Eagles’ O-line has seen more than the usual ups and downs, mostly because of a pair of surprise departures at left tackle.

Last fall, Nick Ellison left the program to focus on his studies. His successor, Brett Thompson, started most of the season but retired during the winter.

Fortunately, this is among the deepest and most talented O-lines in recent Eastern history, with all the key players returning off a unit that helped the Eagles rack up 477 yards of offense per game.

The goal this spring, according to Butorac, is to “continue to refine some of the finer points … to develop a lot of our younger guys – we’ve got guys that have started a lot of games.”

The stalwarts in the middle are center Spencer Blackburn, an All-Big Sky Conference pick after starting all 11 games; Jack Hunter, who started the last eight games at right guard after Matt Meyer was lost to injury; and Tristen Taylor, whose versatility figures to come in handy again this fall.

It was Taylor who started at left tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2016, then moved to left guard last spring. He briefly saw action at his old spot before starting the last eight games at guard.

“Tristan has a high IQ – he’s done it before,” Butorac said as the Eagles assess their options.

Chris Schlichting, a nine-game starter at right tackle in 2017, also will get a look at the “blind side.” So will former tight end Beau Byus and redshirt freshmen Matt Shook and Wyatt Musser.

Butorac has a wealth of depth at guard, including Conner Christ, Meyer and Kaleb Levao, a two-game starter who fell to injury early in the season.

“Our versatility allows you to toy with some lineups, especially in the spring,” Butorac said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been cross-trained, and that gives you the best value

“We’re going to continue to get the young guys more reps.”

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