FOOTBALL: Offensive line biggest question mark this season

Parrish to have line focus on basics entering first game

Surrounded by the quarterback, receivers and running back, linemen are rarely noticed and talked about less.

That wasn't the case for Ball State last season. For all the wrong reasons, the Cardinals offensive line was one of the longest-running topics in 2009.

Despite returning all five starters this fall, the offensive line remains Ball State's biggest unknown eight days before its season opener against Southeast Missouri State.

"As good as they'll be, that's as good as we'll be. That plain and simple," said coach Stan Parrish, who admitted his line has looked bad at times during fall camp. "Not beating themselves, that's the most important thing. ... I'm banking on them being better and better and better every week."

The line's youth and inexperience were major reasons why Ball State ranked 11th of 13 Mid-American Conference teams in scoring offense, last in passing offense and 12th in total offense last season. It allowed 30 sacks in 12 games, second-most in the conference after ranking 10th nationally in fewest sacks allowed in 2008.

Parrish said the offensive line struggled against the more-experienced defensive line in a 50-play intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 14.

"Bringing their mojo, every minute, every day," he said when asked what area his line needs to improve. "They know where they're going. They're not getting there. They've got to get there and do it."

Offensive line is a thankless position. Few care about the block that sprung an 80-yard touchdown run over the running back that scored.

Linemen usually get the spotlight only after mistakes. But they often spark big plays, an area the Cardinals offense lacked last season.

"The offensive line is the beginning of our offense," senior guard Michael Switzer said. "Our group has a lot of pressure on us, but I think we're ready to go with that and embrace this pressure. I think it's definitely on us, so we need to break through."

Switzer assumed offensive line leadership last season. After four starters from 2008 graduated, he was the only player left with significant game experience. He'll also be one of four team captains this fall, according to a tweet offensive line coach Jason Eck published Sunday night.

He said the group is better with understanding the offense, reading defenses and communicating than it was a year ago, but he isn't satisfied yet.

"I think we've gotten a lot better, but there's still a long way to go," Switzer said. "There's breakdowns in our scrimmages. We need to get better with stuff like that, but I'm seeing strides in practice."

Parrish said he's committed to improving the offensive line. After the team's scrimmage, he told his linemen practices leading to Sept. 2 would focus on basics.

"I'm going to spread my wings and spend a little time with the O-line," Parrish said. "Old-school stuff. Five-man sled. Down in the chutes. That's what the game is all about. It's about playing low and knocking people off the ball."