Linemen a key in new scheme, wild plays
Mike Nappa assumed it would take everybody on his offense a while to grasp the new system he and his coaching staff were putting in place for 2013.
Then the 'Canes went out and scored 92 points in their first two games.
So much for that.
"In practice there was a little confusion, but as the weeks went on we got the hang of it," said senior left tackle Tim Hogan.
While there was much to learn for the skill players as well, it was the line that had to get on the same page quicker than everybody else.
Vets went from a standard man-blocking system to a zone-blocking one, something that was completely foreign to everybody on the team.
But, with a veteran group committed to making it work, what was once strange became second nature almost immediately.
"The first week was a little hectic until they got the idea of what we wanted them to do," Nappa said. "Then when you put the three base run plays in, everything comes off those three base plays."
What followed was a successful offensive season, and a year in which Vets won more league games — four — than it had since 2008.
It wasn't a coincidence. As comfort grew in the new system, the line — which was fairly veteran — began making its own calls, adjusting to the defense.
When everything was clicking, the line had the offense moving like a well-oiled machine.
"If we see someone's assignment is hard on them, we could use a help call and I would pick up their assignment and they would come over and pick up my assignment," senior right guard Ricky Antonio said. "It makes it easier on us."
Antonio has been starting on the line since his sophomore year, Hogan is a converted tight end who has familiarity with the line. Connor Thompson, a junior, is starting at center for the second straight year, while Oliver Sylvestre is a senior right tackle who has played defense in the past but is starting on offense for the first time this season.
At left guard, seniors Steven Denis and Luke Cardillo are both seeing time.
"Being together so long, they can make a good play out of a bad play by the changes that they recognize," Nappa said.
They've also learned that in the new offense, most plays are never dead.
While the linemen are taught to make their initial blocks, a lot of what Vets does is predicated on what quarterback Jesse Sedoma sees once he has the ball in his hands. Oftentimes, that means a lot of scrambling — sometimes sideline to sideline — before either running or getting rid of the ball.
The 'Canes' men in the trenches can't relax, even if that means blocking much longer than the traditional amount of time.
"Coach always says keep doing your job until you hear a whistle," Antonio said.
That style of play was never more evident than on a two-point conversion play against Coventry earlier in the season, when Sedoma scrambled around in the backfield before finding Jeremy Morrissette for a game-winning conversion.
"I wish we had eyes in the back of our head," Denis said. "That would make it a lot easier."
That was a huge win, and it was made possible because of the play on the line. While the 'Canes didn't quite reach their goal this season of making the playoffs, they did revamp their offense in just one pre-season.
It was difficult at times, and it featured plenty of imagination. But it's also been successful.
"We never really know where a play is going in our offense," Hogan said. "We can't take a play off. It might be a play designed to go to the right and end up left. You never know."
- Kevin Pomeroy