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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

EWU’s young offensive line is making progress

If all goes according to plan for Tristen Taylor, he’ll be an All-America left tackle before he turns 20.

Eastern Washington offensive line coach Aaron Best appreciates the confidence – a scarce commodity when 10 of your 14 linemen are still in their teens.

“Mostly I’m handing out hugs and Girl Scout cookies and saying ‘nice job’ and ‘atta-boy’ to build their confidence,” Best joked after practice Monday morning.

That remark came minutes after his linemen got a postpractice pep talk from former EWU All-American Luke Fritz. Hard work pays off, Fritz told them, repeating the message they got from former NFL All-Pro Michael Roos barely a week earlier.

Morale got another boost last weekend, when the line had a solid scrimmage performance to help the offense rack up 494 yards.

“We had some some success from a fan’s perspective,” Best said while acknowledging there’s plenty of work to do before the opener on Sept. 3 at Washington State.

Indeed, the O-line is still a work in progress after the graduation of all five starters and the top two backups. Chemistry has a steep learning curve, though some players would disagree.

“It’s going really well,” said center Jerrod Jones, the only upperclassmen in the group. “We’re working well together, and we’ve really bonded together going into the fall.”

And while he misses his old teammates – “You do notice that they’re gone” – Jones is excited about the youngsters’ progress.

“They’re really stepping up,” Jones said.

So is Jones, a 6-foot-4, 300-pounder from Arlington, Washington, who saw action last year at tackle. “He’s one of the more athletic guys we have,” said Best, who will start Jones next week in Pullman. The rest of the penciled-in starters are underclassmen.

The most experienced is right tackle Nick Ellison, a 6-6, 300-pounder from Moscow, Idaho. Ellison is playing only his fourth year of organized football, but “has grown up on and off the field – that’s a huge benefit for us,” Best said.

At right guard, the expected starter is Matt Meyer, a 6-5, 315-pound redshirt sophomore out of Lynden, Washington, who transferred last year from WSU. Now he’ll get his first start in Martin Stadium.

Chris Schlichting, a 6-5, 300-pound freshman from North Bend, Washington, will start at left guard.

Top backups include Spencer Blackburn at center, Jack Hunter at guard, Levi Long at tackle and Will Gram almost everywhere.

“We feel we have about eight guys who are ready to play in Pullman,” said Best, now in his 16th year with the Eagles. “That could be to up to nine or 10 by next week – 10 days is an eternity in our world.”

That brings us back to Taylor, a 6-6, 320-pound man-child who just may have the talent to back up those All-America dreams.

“Actually, he’s done a good job of humbling himself to those potentials,” Best said. “He’s very capable, and this is a very special (redshirt) freshman group.”

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