NSU working on offensive line improvements

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Nicholls State is experiencing a growth of depth and competition on its offensive line.

Over the summer, the Colonels brought in 16 offensive linemen to compete in the team’s fall camp, according to head coach Charlie Stubbs.

Those players include a pair of notable transfers from FBS programs, players who entered the program from the high school ranks, and some who are returning from either various injuries or an eligibility issue.

The depth the Colonels have up front this season is something the team had been sorely missing in years past, said Nicholls State offensive line coach Matt Clark.

“It’s a lot of improvement than what it has been,” Clark said. “It was really thin and we had to play some people that hadn’t really played last year that were new guys. This year, we have a quality group of nine or 10 guys that have (taken) significant college football snaps. The depth has been good and it’s created some competition for us.”

Among those competing for playing time are junior Ashton Duhe and senior Nick Chartain, two big transfers from former Conference USA schools SMU and Memphis, respectively. Both players already had ties to south Louisiana previously.

Duhe starred at Destrehan High School before signing with SMU. He played in five games a season ago and made one start.

Chartain is another local product who played high school ball in New Orleans for Desire Street Academy and then made 13 starts in two seasons at Memphis.

Stubbs said the Colonels have been fortunate to be able to add players to the program that have the type of FBS backgrounds that Duhe and Chartain bring.

“Maybe they went to a bigger school, and maybe sometimes they’re not playing as much as they wish or they have family situations here that bring them back, but we’ve been having a great situation here that they just want to be part of,” Stubbs said.

Transfers aside, the Colonels have some players with starting experience from within the program returning on the offensive line from last season.

Senior Abasi Salimu, effectively the team’s leader up front at left tackle, started all 11 games for Nicholls last year and was a Southland Conference honorable mention.

Sophomore Brandon Holmes, the Colonels’ starting center, also has experience after starting 10 games up front a season ago as a true freshman.

Junior Caleb Cline and senior Eric Alt anchor the right side of the offensive line. Cline started all 11 games up front in 2012 while Alt started at guard and tackle.

All four of those players started in the Colonels’ season-opening 66-3 loss at Oregon on Saturday. Nicholls State’s offensive line allowed six sacks, but the Colonels did garner a respectable 22 first downs and 347 yards of total offense.

“They’ve got some pride about themselves and they should,” Clark said of the line. “With any good offense, if you can’t do things up front that are going to make your offense go, you’re not going to be very much. But they feel comfortable in what we’re doing and they’ve been in it for a while now and feel comfortable playing next to each other. They’ve developed relationships with guys they’ve been playing with for a while.”

And of all the developments up front that are drawing excitement from the coaching staff, none may be bigger than the return of left guard Rafe Plaisance.

The junior and former prep standout at South Lafourche missed all of last season due to an eligibility issue but has experience after starting nine games as a freshman in 2011.

Plaisance also saw extensive playing time in the opener against Oregon.

“(Salimu) and Plaisance were both really consistent in camp and have provided a good leadership base,” said Clark. “We have a handful of guys that I think have the ability to lead and we’ve stressed that it doesn’t have to be just one guy going forward.”

For their part, players say they’ve welcomed the additions up front.

“We feel that if anyone goes down, we can just chunk the next person in and we’ll be fine,” Salimu said. “We all work together and the more competition we have, it’s just going to benefit us more. We all feel like we’re a better unit than last year.”

The infusion of depth has pushed the returning starters to work harder, Holmes said.

“We all perform better if we have somebody chasing us,” he said. “I think the competition is better because we have guys to rotate in, take reps, and when you’re tired, you have some guys that are able to go in for you.”

With three FBS opponents in the first three weeks of the season, it’s an offensive line that will be given quite a workout right out of the gate.

But even that isn’t without its potential benefits, Clark said.

Because of the Colonels’ struggles on the offensive line in the past, the team had to force some players into a baptism-by-fire approach to starting.

Now that they have some experience playing together, it could be a turning point as the team move forward.

“Those struggles for us, right now, have been good because the players have seen it first hand and know what to expect and how to improve,” he said.

“As this unit gets to play together more and gets more experience and matures physically and mentally and gets a better understanding of what defenses are trying to do to us, I think that will progress us as much as anything.”

Nicholls State quarterback Beaux Hebert takes a snap during a Colonels’ preseason practice. The Colonels are excited about their offensive prospects for the new season. One of the biggest reasons for the optimism is the play of the team’s offensive line, which is expected to be improved thanks to a mix of both newcomers and returnees.