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Eastern Washington football reloads on the offensive line

EWU’s Jake Rodgers has played every offensive line position except for center during his college career. (Colin Mulvany)
EWU’s Jake Rodgers has played every offensive line position except for center during his college career. (Colin Mulvany)

Moments before another sweltering round of two-a-days at Eastern Washington, assistant coach Aaron Best paused to consider some weighty matters.

Such as his offensive line, which is retooling and reshuffling, but definitely not rebuilding – even with the graduation of three star performers in the middle.

The bulk of the conversation centered on departed linemen Ashton Miller, Steven Forgette and Brandon Murphy – all of them 300-plus pounds and packing enough senior savvy to help the Eagles to a record-breaking offensive season in 2013.

And this year? Little has changed – a testament to the growth of the Eastern program and the eagerness of the new guys to stack their plates, both in the weight room and the dining room.

That’s especially true at center, where new starter Jase Butorac has bulked up to 292 – just 8 pounds less than Miller. “Let’s just say that Jase has a different body type than Ashton and leave it at that,” joked Best, who after 14 seasons in Cheney is an expert at comparing and contrasting large objects.

“It’s more important that he’s learned from the best,” Best said of Butorac, a senior from Sammamish, Washington.

By the same token, left guard Aaron Neary tips the scale at 300 – 10 pounds less than All-American Forgette.

Neary, a junior from Richland, makes up for that with a “pop at the point of attack,” Best said. “He’ll thump you a little more than Steve did.”

“And maybe Steve just looked bigger than that because he wore a neck roll,” Best joked.

The most pleasant dilemma is what to do with 6-foot-6, 320-pound Jake Rodgers, who played every position except for center at Washington State and certainly could do the same in Cheney. Last year he missed five games through injury while playing at right tackle; he’s penciled in to start at right guard.

“He’s a little more svelte than Brandon, a little more aesthetically pleasing,” Best said, tongue in cheek as Rodgers stood a few feet away. After a few jabs at Rodgers’ mullet and facial hair, Best pronounced the former Shadle Park star as able to play anywhere on the line except center.

Says head coach Beau Baldwin: “Jake’s ability to start at tackle or at guard is huge, especially if there’s an injury, because he has the versatilty to move from inside to outside.”

And that’s OK with Rodgers. “It makes things a little more challenging,” allowed Rodgers. “We like to know all of the positions as far as responsbilities, but to be able to execute it at different times, at multiple positions, is difficult.”

The difference is that Rodgers will know about it after a two-way conversation, unlike his three years at Washington State. “The player-coach relationship here is great,” said Rodgers, who transferred prior to spring ball in 2013 after one season under WSU coach Mike Leach.

Leach’s Air Raid offense demanded wider splits by the linemen, but at least the guard and tackle positions were more interchangeable. “I struggled here at guard, because the steps are a bit different,” Rodgers said.

No matter, Rodgers will step in where he’s needed.

So will backups Thomas Gomez (290 pounds), David Delgado (305) Jay Deines (285) and Jerrod Jones (295).

“They have a great grind about them,” Baldwin said of the offensive linemen, most of whom got plenty of game experience last year.

And while there’s no such thing as an irresistible force, the Eagles don’t give up anything on the outside either, with left tackle Clay DeBord, a 6-6, 305-pound junior from Asotin, Washington; and right tackle Cassidy Curtis, a 6-7, 295-pound junior from Denver.

And for now, that’s about the size of it.

Scrimmage Saturday

The Eagles go back to two-a-days today, then play their first scrimmage Saturday at about 10:20 a.m. at Roos Field. Players get the day off Sunday.

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