A year ago, the Yale football team had one of its most prolific offenses in school history. Quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16 threw for a program-record 3,220 yards and 22 touchdowns and running back Tyler Varga ’15 was named Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year for his 1,423 rushing yards and 26 total touchdowns. Meanwhile, receivers Grant Wallace ’15 and Deon Randall ’15 were both named first-team All-Ivy.
However, much of the offense’s success was not entirely its own — instead, it came from the open running lanes and clean passing pockets created by five players usually not noticed outside of penalties: the offensive linemen.
Between now-departed seniors Will Chism ’15 and Ben Carbery ’15 — along with fellow starters Luke Longinotti ’16, Khalid Cannon ’17 and Mason Friedline ’17 — the Bulldogs yielded just nine sacks, the fewest in the Ivy League.
“I think one of the key things for us is whether we can become a dominant offensive line like we were last year,” head coach Tony Reno said. “Those things don’t just happen. You have to develop that attitude, and provide it week in and week out.”
In order to duplicate last year’s offensive production, this year’s offensive line will have to be dominant. In 2014, the Bulldogs amassed 2,479 rushing yards, but it will be hard for Yale to replace the unique skillset of Varga, currently playing in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts.
Linemen Beau Iverson ’17 and Jon Bezney ’18 will be joining Longinotti, Cannon and Friedline as part of the starting five this season. Iverson, listed at 6-feet-9-inches and 300 pounds, played in just five games over the past two seasons. Though Bezney played in only four games last season due to injury, he entered the program to much fanfare after choosing Yale over Football Bowl Subdivision powerhouses like Wisconsin, Louisville and Vanderbilt.
“The experience of Ben Carbery and Will Chism was invaluable, but I am really excited about what these guys can do this year,” Roberts said.
He added that communication will be key for the linemen this season.
Yale’s five starters, along with other linemen on the depth chart such as twins Derrek Ross ’16 and Dustin Ross ’16, will have to work together to block for running backs and give the quarterback enough time to pass, but they also realize that they do so under the radar.
“I’m not going to score touchdowns, but offensive linemen have a certain mentality,” Longinotti said. “We are working intricately with four other guys to get another player the glory. We take pride in different things. We want to make sure our quarterback doesn’t get hit and we want to open up big holes [for the running backs].”
Yale’s three returning starters have all received accolades this preseason. Longinotti, who has started since his freshman year at right guard and center, was named preseason first-team All-Ivy by CollegeSportsMadness.com. Yale’s right tackle, Cannon, was named to the second team, while Friedline was named to the third team.
Though Yale is losing talent at many skill positions on offense, Longinotti said the offensive line still prides itself on its ability to catalyze the running game and that the Bulldogs still have some very talented running backs in the backfield.
No matter what, a talented offensive line is crucial to Yale’s ability to win an Ivy League title for the first time since 2006, something that Roberts agrees with.
“When you have a great offensive line, you can pass protect and quarterbacks have longer to make decisions and go through progressions,” Roberts said.
Longinotti, the Bulldogs’ most experienced returning offensive lineman, has 21 starts up front in his career.