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Eastern Washington University Football

‘Lean on us,’ say Eastern Washington offensive linemen

Offensive lineman Spencer Blackburn lines up for drills during practice. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The Eastern Washington offensive linemen didn’t get much time to rest on their laurels.

They grew up in a hurry last year, helping the Eagles win another Big Sky Conference title.

The reward was more adjustments – to a more run-heavy offense, a new position coach and the adjustment of higher expectations for a group that exceeded them last year.

Bring it on, says center Spencer Blackburn, who set the bar for overachievement last year and seems hell-bent on doing it again.

“We want to be a group to be leaned on,” said Blackburn, a Bellingham native who redshirted in 2014 and missed all of 2015 with a thumb injury.

That’s 33 months without playing a game, but Blackburn didn’t miss a beat, going from backup to second-team All-Big Sky Conference pick.

“He’s the epitome of an Eastern Washington center,” said O-line coach Jase Butorac, who was one himself just three years ago.

“He’s the kind of guy who’s going to get everything possible out of his body, and he wants to be leaned on.”

For sure, Blackburn and his mates are sturdy enough to a carry a bigger load this year, even with an offense that will emphasize run-blocking more than any of the current players can remember.

Blackburn is ready.

“Just watching film from last year, there were a ton of plays where we had open holes but we threw instead,” Blackburn said.

In other words, the run game has the chance to impress, given the chance.

Butorac and coach Aaron Best are doing everything to make that happen, including moving Tristen Taylor, an honorable mention Big Sky pick at left tackle, to guard.

“It’s not a big adjustment,” said the 6-foot-6, 315-pound redshirt sophomore from Stockton, California. “I’m just working on my hand placement, staying lower.

“The closer you get to the inside, the more you learn,” Taylor said.

The Eagles don’t have a single senior on the O-line, but the learning curve has flattened considerably since last year. “It’s the ideal situation,” Butorac said.

Here’s how the O-line is shaping up midway through fall camp:

Center: Blackburn (6-2, 285) is fixed atop the depth chart, with sophomore D.J. Dyer (6-3, 300) and junior Jack Hunter (6-4, 290) the top backups.

Guard: While Taylor holds down the top spot on the left side, junior Matt Meyer (6-5, 315) is entrenched on the right side after what Butorac calls a “phenomenal” 2016 season. Hunter is in the mix here as well, so expect him to see plenty of action. Will Gram is listed second on the depth chart on the right side, while redshirt freshman Conner Crist (6-3, 300) can play either side.

Tackle: Moving Taylor allows the Eagles to flip junior Nick Ellison (6-6, 310) to the left side. “Every right tackle should be able to play on the left,” said Butorac, who likes Ellison’s versatility. That opens a starting spot on the right for sophomore Chris Schlichting (6-5, 300). Redshirt freshman Brett Thompson (6-4, 290) and Nick Blair (6-7, 300) are the top backups at left tackle, while junior Kaleb Levao (6-4, 290) and soph Dylan Smith providing depth on the right side.