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Friday, September 7, 2012
Eagles hope veteran O-line pays off

By Jack McCluskey

NEWTON, Mass. -- Because of the type of player they attract, the Eagles don't reload -- they rebuild.

And by nature rebuilding takes a lot longer than reloading.

Emmett Cleary
The Eagles are counting on left tackle Emmett Cleary to anchor the offensive line.
For a number of reasons, the Eagles have found themselves in a rebuilding period in recent seasons. By all accounts the players calling the Yawkey Center home these days are cut from the same cloth their hardworking predecessors were, and that's leading to hopes that the lean times -- four years of declining win totals, and an end to the 12-year streak of bowl berths -- are nearing an end.

If they are, one major reason could be the bulking up of the offensive line.

"This is one of the few times we've had five guys in there for a pretty long time, the same guys," head coach Frank Spaziani said before practice Wednesday. "That helps."

Led on the field by mammoth left tackle Emmett Cleary (6-foot-7, 313 pounds) and off the field by new offensive line coach/running game coordinator Jim Bollman, the unit BC has become known for kept quarterback Chase Rettig upright and mostly unmolested in the 41-32 loss to Miami.

"With the cohesiveness of those guys, they should get more confidence and that should lead to better play and hopefully that'll lead to W's," Spaziani said.

Cleary, selected as an offensive co-captain this season, said the communication on the line has been good. The five-man unit has been together all spring and summer, time they've used to jell.

The group has good size. Bobby Vardaro (6-5, 312) lines up next to Cleary at left guard, with Andy Gallik (6-3, 300) at center, Ian White (6-5, 303) at right guard and John Wetzel (6-8, 302) at right tackle.

Asked about his line's performance, Rettig didn't hesitate.

"I thought the offensive line played great," he said. "Coach Bollman got them ready for the week. I think we're really good up front."

Cleary was a little more circumspect.

"Overall we did play well," he said. "You'd like to have more on the ground, but kind of the situation of the game dictated that we were throwing in the second half.

"We protected well, we just gotta get more than 3 yards a carry when we do run the ball. We've gotta be more productive."

BC had 96 net yards rushing on 34 attempts against Miami, good for an average of 2.8 yards a carry. That's not going to cut it.

"Offensively, we kinda take pride in that [if there are] bad conditions, we aren't hitting passes, whatever, we can just take the ball, put it on our shoulders, take the air out of the ball and march down the field," Cleary said. "We were splitting some runs but it wasn't at the consistent level that we need to be."

But when Miami got out to a lead and knew that BC would have to pass to catch up, the line still had little trouble keeping Rettig protected in the pocket.

"I thought they did a good job -- we didn't have any sacks," Spaziani said. "I think that's a combination of those guys protecting him and Chase knowing where to distribute the ball."

Rettig said new coordinator Doug Martin's offense may help by spreading the defense out a bit more than the Eagles have in previous seasons, which makes it harder for defenses to rush the passer.

"I was hit like four times, I think, no sacks," Rettig said, appreciatively. "Whenever you can get no sacks, that's great. That's a great stat to have in any game.

"I felt comfortable the whole game, and I guess it's just because I expected the offensive line to play great. … Not having pressure definitely got me into having a rhythm."

That rhythm helped him set career highs in completions, attempts and passing yards, and got the offense to the 30-point mark.

And while Cleary was pleased with the performance he and his linemates had on Saturday, it clearly irked him that the Eagles averaged what they did on the ground.

Deuce Finch, last season's leading rusher, should be back on the field this weekend. And Cleary & Co. will be raring to go, ready to open holes for him and the other backs.

The left tackle said the Maine defense likes to move a lot, which means one thing for the O-linemen on whose massive shoulders rests so much responsibility.

"We gotta be able to head 'em up," he said.

After one game, the offensive line has good reason to hold its head up high. And if that continues, things will likely start to look up for all the Eagles.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.