CHARLESTON, S.C. – The Charleston Southern Sports Information Department is providing a position-by-position preview of the Buccaneers' 2017 squad. In today's edition, we take a look at the offensive line.
Lost: Erik Austell
Three Things to Watch from the CSU Offensive Line
Acclimating to a new voice
Ron Hudson, a 25-year coaching veteran with experience at both the FBS and FCS levels, enters his first season as CSU's offensive line coach. Hudson spent last year as an offensive consultant at Penn State, and was briefly at Alabama State in the spring before coming to CSU in April. He did not arrive until after spring practice, meaning the two hours per week he got to work with the offensive line in June and July was especially important.
"It was huge," Hudson said. "It's one of those things where as a coach, you want to get your hands on your guys and I wasn't here for spring practice. Just getting to know your players, knowing how they move and how they respond, is important. What a hot button is for this kid isn't necessarily a hot button for that kid, so (it's good for) trying to figure each kid out, how to coach him and how to get the most out of him."
Cirone and Williamson back for fifth season
CSU returns a good deal of experience on the offensive line, led by fifth-year seniors Frank Cirone and Jackson Williamson. Cirone was an All-Big South First Team selection last year, and teamed with Erik Austell to give the Bucs a dominant left side of the line. Williamson earned a medical redshirt after missing the final nine games of last season. The center has started all 40 games of his college career to date, and has a chance to set the program record in that department.
While both have been nicked up early in camp, Hudson has already seen their leadership take hold. The duo was on the field and effective during Wednesday's situational scrimmage.
"They've both been out so it's hard to be the leader when you're in the drill," Hudson said. "But they've been mature enough to not be there and still be involved and still be leaders and still be rallying the young guys and doing all the things they're supposed to do."
Solidifying the tackle spots
Two of the biggest competitions for starting jobs in fall camp are at left and right tackle. Stephen Haralambis and Brackin Smith were listed as the starters entering camp but others like Alex Thompson and freshman Daviyon McDaniel are in the mix. Zack Evans and Caleb Brannon are interior linemen that give the Bucs added depth and experience there.
"Right now, I wouldn't say we've got a starter at either tackle spot," Hudson said. "We've got three or four guys battling for it. I think we've got a bunch of guys that have a chance to be starters so we've just gotta figure out who's gonna come to the top first."
Player Spotlight – Joe Gold
Following a redshirt year in 2015, Joe Gold stepped into a starting role last year and excelled at center. A year later, the Florida Atlantic transfer will move to right guard as CSU welcomes back Williamson at center. Gold displayed plenty of promise in practice two years ago, and that played out on the field last season as he graded out at 78 percent with 52 knockdown blocks.
"I thought we competed the entire day. I was proud of that. I thought we had some good plays and some bad plays. I didn't think we got too high or too low emotionally. We had a very workmanlike attitude and competed every snap." – Offensive line coach Ron Hudson on the unit's performance in Wednesday's situational scrimmage
4 – The offensive line has helped CSU rank top-20 nationally in rushing offense each of the last four years. The Bucs finished sixth last year, averaging 266.5 yards per game.
76 – Filling the void left by the graduation of number 76, Erik Austell, will be a challenge for CSU. Austell was a force at left tackle, earning All-America honors each of the last two seasons while helping the Bucs win back-to-back Big South titles. Austell is currently in training camp with the Houston Texans and made his NFL preseason debut last night.
CSU practiced on Thursday morning and will do so again tomorrow heading into Saturday's scrimmage, which is set to get underway at 9 a.m.