It should come as no surprise to most Eagles fans that Boston College has always had a plethora of talent in their offensive line. The likes of Anthony Castonzo, Chris Lindstrom, Pete Kendall and Damien Woody and many more all played under the lights of Alumni Stadium for the Maroon and Gold. This year’s offensive line is similar to many lines in the past in that this group also brings with it a ton of talent, experience and ferocity. One of the main points to highlight is that this group is now coming in with a lot of guys that have ACC experience, which will prove beneficial to the Eagles in their 2021 campaign. Before we dive in to look at the crew, let’s take a quick gander on how the team performed last season.
We all knew that going into last season that there was going to be some type of shake up on both sides of the football for the Eagles. After the long tenure of Addazio’s “ground-and-pound” football mentality, Jeff Halfey was now at the helm to draft up an offense that was multi-tiered with flavors of iso runs up the middle, shotgun setups and occasional trickery. In other words, he was not married to one way of running his offense which was a huge sigh of relief for Eagles fans as it gave us all something new to look forward to. Nevertheless, in order to satisfy a diverse offensive strategy, he had to also mold and craft his offensive line to adjust to these changes.
With this new mentality, the offensive line came off a tad bit unbalanced. Now being asked to adjust to a more pass-heavy offensive, the Eagles answered that call in the pass-blocking side of the offensive as they finished ranked 13th in the FBS in pass-blocking grade. They also had a Standard Downs Sack Rate (i.e. an unadjusted sack rate for standard downs pass attempts) of just 4.4%. Overall, not too shabby for a group that has been told to essentially lift and shift from their old habits of being purely designed to run-block. With that being said, the run-blocking for the line was not pretty.
Now I am sure it is easy to point the finger at issues with A.J. Dillon leaving, David Bailey not finding his groove in Hafley’s offense, and lack of game-time experience from the likes of Patrick Garwo. All of these arguments are valid, but some of the blame has to fall on to the shoulders of the O-line. Among the running backs, they collectively only ran for 946 yards the whole season, with David Bailey having the lion’s share of the touchdowns at 7. There clearly was some sort of lapse in the O-line in running-blocking and it showed up in the stats. The Eagles offensive-line had a Standard Downs Line Yards Per Carry of 2.47 yards. What was most shocking was the line’s Opportunity Rate percentage. This statistic is the percentage of carries (when four yards are available) that gain at least four yards, i.e. the percentage of carries in which the line does its job, so to speak. For the Eagles, it was 41.8%. Not great. Nonetheless, I am sure Hafley is looking to learn from these experiences and looking to greener pastures for this group.
Returning Players and Preview of the 2021 Season
As mentioned at the top of the article, the Eagles are returning a ton of experience to their offensive unit. Most notably are the graduate students Ben Petrula and Zion Johnson who had great 2020 campaigns. Petrula finished the year at right tackle, starting in every contest and allowing no sacks against Georgia Tech and Louisville. Zion Johnson, who was elected as the team captain, was graded out as the BC’s top offensive linemen in 2020 and I expect both of them to start in their last rodeo as Eagles.
In between both of those guys, I expect to see Chris Lindstrom’s brother, Alec, managing all of the snaps. In 2020, Alec was the go-to guy to watch as he had the pre-season notoriety of being on the Rimington Award Watch List and eventually earning All-ACC First Team honors. He was an impressive player to watch, especially as he more than likely had to shift his playing dynamic the most to accommodate a shot-gun structured backfield.
On the bookends at the guard position, that remains an open question mark. I envision Tyler Vrabel finding a lot of time out on the edge after a strong performance last season coming in at tackle. In a similar vein, I would not be surprised to see Tyler Mahogany out there getting a large share of the snaps given his strong performance last season.
Going into this season, it is evident that there were some growing pains coming out of the season prior. However, that is all that I think they were, growing pains. After so many years of being reliant on a run-heavy offense, most of these Eagle veterans had to adapt to a new coaching scheme and adaptations are not something that you can grow accustomed to overnight. Nevertheless, I envision a very strong and sturdy offensive line this year that will be able bring this offense closer to equilibrium, provide a cushiony pocket for Jurkovec to work in, and supply downfield run support efficiently. All biases aside, expect this offense to be one of the best in the ACC with it all starting in the trenches from the offensive line.