How Kyle DeVan retooled Ball State's offensive line for success
Ball State offensive line coach Kyle DeVan said this team's line reminds him of his playing days at Oregon State.
None of those guys were high-profile recruits. But they were good because they didn't care about what people outside the team thought.
"If we read something or someone said something, we didn't care," DeVan said. "That's one thing I'm very thankful of and I love, is the fact that the outside world looking in has no idea."
Ball State — Starting offensive line
LT — Drake Miller (5th/Senior)
LG — Alex Joss (Redshirt sophomore)
C — Vinnie Palazeti (Redshirt junior)
RG — Pat Maloney (Redshirt junior)
RT — Steven Bell (5th/Senior)
The former NFL lineman has been in charge of rebuilding the offensive line at Ball State that was surrounded by a lot of questions after losing three senior starters from last year. Through four games, however, the offensive line has answered those questions mostly in a positive manner.
"It's 2016. I think everybody that has a computer writes something on the internet, and it's easy to get access to it," DeVan said. "They know they went 3-9. They know a lot of the blame was on the O-line. When your O-line doesn't play good, and you lose three starters, people are questioning it for the following year. I think they started the spring with a chip on their shoulder."
When head coach Mike Neu was hired, he looked to DeVan — an assistant line coach with the New Orleans Saints — to take over the Cardinals' front five.
DeVan played at Oregon State from 2004 to 2007, and went on to the NFL for five seasons. He played for the Colts, Eagles and Titans, and started at right guard for Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV.
When he was hired at Ball State, the first thing he noticed on paper was a total lack of experience on the line. His playing career has been extremely valuable for the younger players he's constantly putting in work with on the sidelines during practice.
"He brings experience from his playing days, and all those great coaches that he was able to surround himself with," said redshirt junior Vinnie Palazeti, the Cardinals' starting center. "You got experience coming from everywhere. Everything he is teaching us has been battle tested."
Palazeti is one of Ball State's new starters on the line this season. He started six games at guard last year, but slid over to center after Andrew Poenitsch was injured in the spring.
Along with first-year starters Pat Maloney and Alex Joss, and fifth-year senior veterans Drake Miller and Steven Bell, Palazeti and the rest of the line have allowed five sacks this season and have paved the way for the team to average 221 rushing yards in a 3-1 start to the year.
"The guys that are playing right now have really been through the exact same reps and camps as I have, and [Miller] and [Bell] have," Palazeti said. "We've played in a few more games, but that's only a handful of reps. 'The next guy in' is really our motto. We just do what we do, and the results kind of speak for themselves."
DeVan doesn't have a ton of drills, he said. He's a proponent of doing the same drills over and over in order to perfect the application on the field.
Miller started all 12 of Ball State's games a year ago. He said some of the teachings are different than years past, but he's happy with the way the new starters have progressed in DeVan's system.
"It's just trying to work on the same things every day," Miller said. "You'd rather know one technique perfectly than a thousand techniques."
Ball State's offensive line has answered the bell — so far. As the Cardinals enter Mid-American Conference play, DeVan is happy with his group's weekly improvement, but also knows they're not even close to where they want to be.
"As a player and a coach, I've been around groups that we were looked at as the weakest link of the team," DeVan said. "But it makes you hungry to get better and prove the naysayers wrong."