ORONO, Maine — There are some significant holes to fill on the offensive line this season for the University of Maine football team.
Re-establishing a cohesive rotation up front is one of the key challenges facing coach Jack Cosgrove and his staff in preparation for the 2013 season.
UMaine went 5-6 a year ago and featured a unit that in the Colonial Athletic Association ranked sixth in total offense (378 yards per game) and scoring offense (27.1 ppg).
The Bears did so riding the experience of senior offensive linemen Garret Williamson, Chris Howley and Josh Spearin, who combined to play in 127 games during their careers.
This year, UMaine offensive linemen have a combined 55 career appearances to their credit.
“Those are really big shoes to fill, but I think we have guys that are capable of filling those positions,” said senior tackle Joe Hook, a 6-foot-5, 285-pounder who started last season. “We just need to come together as a unit.”
The top returnee is senior Jeff Gakos (6-4, 298), who has played in 24 games.
“Hook and Gakos have to play well. They’re returning starters,” Cosgrove said. “For those two guys, it’s incredibly important for them to play well to to be the guys that we can count on.”
After that, the Bears are looking for Tyler Patterson (6-6, 305) to step into a starting tackle spot. The senior from Owls Head, who played at Rockland High School, believes he is ready to meet the challenge.
“I worked up here [all summer] trying to improve every aspect of my game,” said Patterson, who said he has had good role models to follow.
“We all studied under Howley, Spearing and Williamson and those guys were great at what they did,” he explained. “I’ve been here for a number of years, so I got to study other people like Tyler Eastman and Matt Barber. Over time, we’ve all picked up study habits, the way to practice — pretty much understanding the sacrifice of the game.”
The other leading candidates to assume full-time roles are sophomores Bruce Johnson (6-3, 285) and Dan Carriker (6-2, 295), who have played in six and three games, respectively. Other challengers include untested sophomores Chase Hoyt (6-4, 280) and Ben Wezel (6-8, 290), and redshirt freshman Calvert Schaefer (6-7, 278).
“Through the natural progression of preseason, we’ll sort out our best five [linemen],” Cosgrove said. “A lot of that will be on ability, but unit chemistry’s important, too, the right combination of guys.”
Hook said the linemen’s ability to practice hard and consistently well will make the transition to game action easier for those who earn the right to be on the field on Saturdays.
“You’ve got to know what you need to do in a split-second just from seeing what’s in front of you,” Hook said of a lineman’s key responsibilities. “At the same time, you’ve got to be able to trust the guy next to you and know that he’s doing the right thing.”
Senior quarterback Marcus Wasilewski said the offense as a whole is not overly concerned about how the line group will fare once the season begins.
“The bottom line is, we’re all confident in them and they’re all confident in us, so that’s all that matters right now,” Wasilewski said.
“I don’t really think they feel any pressure,” he added. “They know they just have to get down to work like the rest of us and come out every day and try to win every practice.”
Tight end Justin Perillo, who does his share of blocking in addition to catching passes, is confident things will work themselves out as players gain experience and confidence.
“They’ve just got to keep working on things and get in the film room,” he said. “[Offensive line] coach [Jeff] Abrosie’s a great coach and he’ll help get them ready.”
Cosgrove said there is much improvement to be made during the next three weeks.
“They’re going to have to be [ready] when we open up August 31,” Cosgrove said. “That’s what this preseason’s about.”
Maine opens on the road at Norfolk State (Va.) at 6 p.m., then takes on UMass on Sept. 7 at 2 p.m. at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., before playing its home opener on Sept. 14 at 3:30 p.m. against Bryant.