In a season that has had no shortage of coverage — see, for example, running back Tyler Varga’s ’15 profile in the New York Times last week or ESPN’s coverage of the Army game last month — one group has yet to command the headlines: the Yale offensive line.
The five-man unit has been an immovable force as it has dominated opposing defensive lines, protecting quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 and creating holes for Varga to run through. Thanks in part to the robustness of the line, Yale’s offense is averaging 601.8 yards per game, first in the country, and threatening nearly every major offensive school record.
The unit’s strength is due in part to its experience, as only two linemen graduated after the 2013 campaign. The remaining three players — left guard Will Chism ’15, center Luke Longinotti ’16 and right tackle Ben Carbery ’15 — all had at least one full season of starting experience coming into the current year.
“We were fortunate enough to start all five in the same 10 games last season,” offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Conlin said.
That unit, which has remained relatively intact, allowed just three sacks of last year’s starting quarterback, Hank Furman ’14. In the offseason, Longinotti moved from right guard to center, and Khalid Cannon ’17 and Mason Friedline ’17 stepped into left tackle Wes Gavin ’14 and right guard John Oppenheimer’s ’14 positions, respectively.
Last year, Cannon played both right and left tackle, but now exclusively lines up on the left and is responsible for protecting the right-handed Roberts’ blind side. According to Conlin, Cannon is more than up to the task.
“He was more comfortable on the right as a freshman,” Conlin said. “Athletically, he’s probably the best athlete we have. He’s probably the best in pass protection, so we felt Khalid as a sophomore had the potential to start at that position.”
But athleticism only gets a player so far. The veterans that remained have been invaluable in helping Cannon and Friedline transition to the line, according to the two new starters.
“The older guys, like Will Chism, Ben Carbery [and] Luke Longinotti, really helped us,” Cannon said. “They still help me make my calls sometimes. They help us when we’re watching film, pointing out things we need to be aware of. They’re just really good teammates.”
Friedline added that playing next to Longinotti on the line helps, as the junior center is smart and makes all the calls for the offensive line, thus simplifying Friedline’s job.
Like any good teammates, the offensive line’s bonds transcend the field — the groups spends significant time together after practice and on the weekends.
“I think you can just look at our meeting room to see how close we are,” Friedline added. “We’re really focused when we need to [be], but we like to joke around a lot, we like to have fun and keep it loose.”
It was not until mid-August that the five linemen finally started working together, largely because NCAA regulations prevented the Bulldogs from working extensively in the spring.
Even despite this lack of practice time, Cannon and Friedline were able to acclimate to their starting roles. Both had seen game time as backups during the 2013 season, and they increased their repetitions during the offseason.
“In spring ball, they got a lot of opportunities and an awful lot of reps,” Conlin said. “They got to compete every day. They both did a great job learning the offense.”
Friedline faced the added challenge of learning a new position; during spring ball, he moved from center to guard.
Conlin pointed to Cannon’s strengthened pass protection and Friedline’s improved footwork and pad level as evidence of the effort that both players put in to get ready for the 2014 season.
“In the offseason, we lift pretty much every morning of the week,” Cannon said. “[During] spring ball, we’re up at 5:30 every morning to catch the bus to practice. I was here all summer, training and getting ready for the season.”
Cannon said he has not been home since May 30, and Friedline said he has been at school since July. Thanks to this time on campus, however, Cannon and Friedline’s preparations were well underway by the time the season opened. Since then, Roberts has been sacked just five times, the fewest among current Ivy League starters.
Despite this impressive statistic, Cannon and Friedline remained modest about their accomplishments.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time,” Friedline said.