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Same faces, new places: CMU adds offensive line depth from all over

Freshman offensive lineman Derek Smith reaches for the football during the game against Miami Ohio on Sept. 23 in Kelly/Shorts Stadium.

With three starters graduated and another lost for the season to injury, most schools would be left searching their roster for depth on the offensive line. 

Luckily for Central Michigan and coach Jim McElwain, there are plenty of returning contributors who backed up those departed starters in 2019. 

"(I) really feel good about the offensive line," McElwain said. " ... Although we're a little thin, we might be thin at a lot of spots just from the numbers, but I'm really happy with where that group is." 

Derek Smith, who is projected to be the starter at left guard, is the only returning lineman to have started every game last season. He's started 24 games in his career, making him the most experienced option available. 

Last season, Smith was the Chippewas' second highest rated blocker according to Pro Football Focus overall and the team's highest rated pass blocker. He's played all five positions at times in his career. Left guard is where he spent the entirety of last season and will likely be where he starts in 2020. 

Next to Smith, returning starter Luke Goedeke is lost for the season due to knee surgery. To replace him, the Chippewas have a pair of converted options, in defensive lineman Keegan Cossou and tight end Bernhard Raimann, as well as Romello Tarver, who is returning from injury. 

"(Cossou) is doing a heck of a job, just really happy about that," McElwain said. "Hindsight's 20-20, but I probably wish we would've done that from the get-go." 

Raimann, meanwhile, was projected to compete for the starting job at tight end after Tony Poljan transferred to Virginia. Yet, McElwain and his staff elected to slide him to tackle. At 6-foot-7, Raimann has the necessary size to play well at the position. 

The unselfishness that Raimann showed in the move impressed his coaches. 

"You’re talking about the unselfishness of Bernhard, that he’s moving in to play offensive line," Frye said. "I just think that speaks to his unselfishness and his, how much he cares about the Chippewas and us having success." 

At center, the Chippewas bring back Jamezz Kimbrough. Kimbrough missed all of last season and played right guard in 2018 but will move to the center position after the graduation of Steve Eipper. Though a missed season hurts his development, McElwain still considers him a veteran on the offensive front. 

Behind Kimbrough is Jeff Strome, who backed up Eipper last season. 

On the right side of the line, the Chippewas have plenty of young options. Sophomore Danny Motowski returns after starting the final two games of the season in lieu of Oge Udeogu's season ending injury. Fellow sophomore Deiyantei Powell-Woods and redshirt freshman Tyden Ferris will also compete for playing time on the right side. 

Expect Motowski to anchor the right guard position. At right tackle, Powell-Woods and Ferris will try to exhibit their versatility and compete for the job against redshirt freshman Vashon Bailey. Aarion Harvey, a junior college transfer from Hudson Valley Community College, will also get a chance to battle for the position. 

Assuming everyone stays healthy, there are plenty of options to choose from on the Chippewa front line. It isn't the experience that the unit had last year, but there is leadership within the unit. Pair that leadership with a young group willing to learn, and there is certainly potential that McElwain and his staff can tap into. 

"About the offensive line, it's just guys sticking together, staying together," Smith said. "It's five guys with their hand in the dirt and we're paving the way for the running backs. As long as we're together, we're gonna be fine."