NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — Injuries decimated the Merrimack offensive line last season before the year even began. Two springs ago, the Warriors lost projected starting tackle Brian Hurley to an ACL injury and he missed the entire 2014 season. Injuries up front continued to ravage the group throughout the season.
Hurley is back this fall and is projected to be one of Merrimack’s starting tackles. Joe Loubier, who last season started as an 18-year-old true freshman in Hurley’s absence, is also back at tackle and the duo should help anchor a revamped and healthy offensive line for the Warriors in 2015.
“It was one of those years where we were decimated by injuries and unfortunately a lot of it was at the same spot,” said head coach Dan Curran. “You never want injuries anywhere, but sometimes if you can spread it out, it’s helpful. On the O-line, it’s the one spot on the field where you have five guys, so if you have depth issues there you have issues. As fun as our offense is and the high-flying stuff and throwing the ball, everything starts on the inside out up front.”
The Warriors offensive line have always been solid. Even in years where Joe Clancy was chucking the football all over the field, the Warriors’ line was always solid throughout. Mike Hubbard was one of the best linemen in the NE-10 at that time, and the Warriors had along with him a line that was always seven or eight deep.
With injuries, deep wouldn’t best to describe Merrimack’s 2014 offensive line. But there were some benefits, as Curran points out.
“Last year, with the injury situation we had, to play some guys who are very good players, but probably weren’t quite ready,” he said. “The benefit of that is that some guys got some really good experience playing that are now way further ahead than where they would have been.”
The offensive line was really a microcosm for Merrimack’s entire team in 2014. At quarterback, senior Luke Bakankowsky tore his ACL in the second game of the season forcing freshman Joe Capobianco and first-year transfer Nick Laspada into prominent roles.
“Sometimes as a program or a team you need to take one step back to take three steps forward,” Curran said. “Last year you can look at the injuries, but we had some really bright moments. Overall the consistency wasn’t where he wanted it to be and part of that was lack of experience and lack of depth because of the injury situation.”
Last year’s starting center, Shaunn Reiss, returns as a graduate student. Two other starters on the interior, junior Shaun Bowman and redshirt sophomore Joseph Peduto, will bring more experience to the line.
This season’s offensive line isn’t just healthier, it’s a lot more physical.
“This is the most physical our line has been in a couple of years,” Curran said. “We’re still trying to figure out who the top-five are, we think it’s between seven or eight guys, but having Brian Hurley back off the ACL, is a huge addition. I think he’s as good a run blocker, as a tackle, in this league. His pass pro has improved and he looks good. Joe Loubier went out there against Bryant in Week 1 (last year), as an 18-year-old kid, and did a nice job against a top-25 FCS team. Now after having labrum surgery, he also had a concussion, he’s a different-level kid right now.
“You have two tackles who are 6-5, 290 or 300 pounds and can move and are athletic. That changes some things. We have some competition inside at the guard spot. Hopefully we’ll figure out who those five are, but the group as a whole is really physical and that’s going to bode well for our run game.”