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Building an offensive line is key to success for UB football

The University at Buffalo offensive line is undergoing major renovations this spring.

The Bulls lost three starters from last year’s O-line and have graduated six standout veterans over the last two years.

That makes the offensive line the second biggest question-mark unit on the team – behind only the quarterback position.

How well UB can develop a new front five on offense over the next five months will go a long way to determining the success of whoever wins the quarterbacking job.

“We lost a lot of key players, plus we’ve got a lot of guys who could figure in the two-deep rotation not practicing right now,” said UB coach Lance Leipold after Tuesday’s workout at the ADPRO Sports Training Center. “So we’ve got young guys getting thrown into the fire pretty quickly.”

It isn’t all a start from scratch.

Anchoring the offensive line for a second straight year is redshirt sophomore center James O’Hagan, who started all 12 games last year. He’s a former national high school heavyweight wrestling champion from Long Island who had a solid campaign last year.

Back at one of the guard spots figures to be junior Brandon Manosalvas, a burly, 310-pounder from New Jersey who started 10 games last year. He’s recovering from offseason foot surgery and isn’t yet ready for practice.

UB thinks it has enough options at the other guard spot to form a stout middle-three on the line. Contenders include: Trey Bowman, a sophomore from Iowa; Andy Fidler, a sophomore from Wisconsin; Jacob Byron, a junior from just east of Rochester; and Connor Morehart, a sophomore from Reading, Pa. Fidler saw the most snaps of that group last season but is sitting out with an injury. Bowman was starting on Tuesday.

UB will have two new offensive tackles, after graduating John Kling and Bob Blodgett. Working in those spots Tuesday were senior Roubbens Joseph on the left and junior Tyler O’Henly on the right.

Joseph, a junior college transfer last year from Massachusetts, started three games in 2015. He’s a 6-foot-4, 310-pounder.

“He’s a very athletic young man,” Leipold said. “We talked last year about where would be the best place to get him in the rotation in some way. We thought it was guard. Looking at where we’re at this year, we definitely feel tackle is the best spot for him in the spring and we’ll see where it goes.

O’Henly is a 6-7, 310-pounder from London, Ont. He saw spot duty the second half of the season and started the season finale at right tackle.

“It was good to finally get some real playing experience,” O’Henly said. “My first year I redshirted and my second year it was mostly at the end of games. To tie a full game together the last game was really valuable experience for me.”

O’Henly has added 20 pounds over the past year. He has the length to make pass rushers take a long route to the quarterback.

“Initially when I got here I really missed the extra yard you get in Canadian foootall on the line,” O’Henly said. “But I’ve gotten used to that. I think I’m faster and more cerebral than when I first got here. I had an awesome opportunity to learn behind guys like Andre Davis and Bobby and John for three years.”

Leipold thinks senior Albert McCoy, a Floridian who UB converted from defensive line last year, will challenge for the top three at tackle. Montreal recruit Tomas Jack-Kurdyla is a freshman to watch. UB had redshirt freshman Evan Ksiezarczyk of West Seneca working with the second team Tuesday.

UB finished 10th in the Mid-American Conference last year in rushing yards, rushing attempts and yards per carry. Injuries to senior Dylan Guy and others the second half of the season hurt the O-line’s productivity.

“When we lost Dylan and Mono, that really put us in such a strain last year,” Leipold said. “Tyler was banged up. Albert was banged up. We wore down a little bit. Andy Fidler hasn’t been 100 percent healthy. We were trying to find ways to run the football, practicing a little longer, wearing down in other spots. It just didn’t gel late in the year the way we wanted to.”

The players think more familiarity with Leipold’s system will help.

“We have new guys coming in,” Joseph said. “But we also have some anchors on the line who know what’s going on and know the game speed and the offense well. I think we should be pretty good.”

UB has 11 more practices scheduled before conducting its spring game April 23.

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com