Incredible health of Oregon State’s offensive line just luck? The little things off the field are paying off – OregonLive

LOS ANGELES – Throughout the 2021 season, it’s often been said Oregon State has one of the country’s best offensive lines.

The offensive stats back it up. The Joe Moore Award, which honors the nation’s best offensive line, has OSU among its final four.

The Beavers’ offensive line, on display Saturday when Oregon State faces Utah State in the LA Bowl (KATU, 4:30 p.m.) is talented and developed. But to deliver, they had to get on the field each Saturday. That’s no easy feat.

What often separates great offensive lines from good units is health. Tackles Joshua Gray and Brandon Kipper, right guard Nous Keobounnam and center Nathan Eldridge started every game in 2021. Only six linemen started a game during the 12-game regular season.

Among Pac-12 schools, only Arizona State started fewer offensive linemen. Most started at least eight different linemen; Pac-12 division winners Oregon and Utah started 10 offensive linemen each.

What’s remarkable is that this isn’t a one-off for Oregon State. Since Jonathan Smith became OSU’s coach in 2018, the Beavers’ offensive line is as close as it comes to bulletproof.

Over four seasons, Oregon State has started 25 players, just five over the minimum. In 2018 and 2020, four of the five linemen started every game. In 2019, three of the five started each game. Kipper has started 31 consecutive games, Eldridge and Gray 19 each, and Keobounnam 13.

“We’ve been lucky,” offensive line coach Jim Michalczik said.

One season, that might be luck. But four? Oregon State is doing something right.

The self-effacing Michalczik, who still thinks after four years luck has something to do with it, says some factors are scheme, the work of strength and conditioning coach Mike McDonald, and the off-field habits of the linemen.

In terms of scheme, Michalczik says movement in critical.

“We’re always moving. We’re not getting stagnant where we’re getting rolled up a ton,” he said.

Michalczik said practice matters, too, as Smith emphasizes that players stay on their feet. It’s a model NFL teams use, Michalczik said.

“We’re not tackling in practice. We’re “thudding” guys up. You don’t want bodies flying into your knees,” Michalczik said.

The approach to developing a lineman in the weight room is full-body, not just lifting weights. Yoga and some of the stretches are helpful from an injury prevention aspect.

The foundation is set when linemen walk into the program. With this year’s offensive line, McDonald said his job has been easy because “they’ve mastered the mundane. Doing all the simple, small things that lead to big, big changes on the field.”

McDonald said some of the offensive linemen are among the team’s best in taking care of their bodies. They pay attention to critical aspects of training recovery, like sleep and diet, which have a direct impact on soft tissue issues.

Sleep is essential. McDonald insists they attempt to get eight to 10 hours each night, which he knows is difficult given the demands of a college student. McDonald’s staff tracks the player’s sleep hours, even ranking the quality of the sleep. It’s not tracked through a device, just honesty.

“If they had a crappy night’s sleep, tell us. We try to pay attention any patterns that we see,” McDonald said.

Diet is personalized, as offensive linemen have various needs regarding gaining, losing or maintaining weight. Whatever the case, eating quality nutrients is essential. Stay away from fast and fatty foods and eat lean meats, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. And do it daily, not occasionally.

Because Oregon State has been able to keep the same linemen on the field game in, game out over the past several years, it’s not a surprise they’ve thrived.

“They’ve been through a lot of things. They’ve seen a lot of things. They can make adjustments very quickly. There’s not as much teaching on the fly,” Michalczik said.

Four of OSU’s five starting offensive linemen were named to the all-conference coaches or writer’s team this season. In naming Oregon State’s offensive line as one of its four finalists, the Joe Moore Award committee noted the Beavers’ consistency.

“These guys can be relied upon for their familiarity. You don’t have to watch long to see their technique, efforts, strain and finish. It looks like it’s supposed to look,” the committee wrote in their finalist’s statement.

–Nick Daschel | ndaschel@oregonian.com | @nickdaschel

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