WIU defensive, offensive lines retooling and reloading


Jake Thompson

Jacob Judd (#66), James Torgerson (#77), and Josh Baldus (#55) are three experienced offensive linemen who will do more run blocking this season in Charlie Fisher’s offensive attack.

Adam Feiner

Like most football teams, the preseason hype for Western Illinois football has been on the quarterback and skill positions. However, the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball for the Leathernecks will be interesting to watch all season long.

Western returns 17 of 22 starters from last season’s squad. However, the place of greatest loss was along the defensive line. Despite that fact, the coaching staff is confident a question mark could turn into a bright spot.

“Anytime you lose as much as they did here last year, you’re going to have question marks,” said defensive coordinator David Elson. “But these guys have enough game experience, and we got to work with them in the spring. We think they’ll develop into a strength for us.”

“Watching the tapes from last year and this year, there’s not much of a difference with the guys we have,” said defensive line coach Tyler Stockton. “I think people will be surprised. There’s not going to be much of a drop off at all.”

Look for JJ Veloz, Pete Swenson, Mick Nelson, Steve Mercado, Grant Kasal, Colin Olson and Khalen Saunders to step into some of the starting roles. It’s a very talented group who isn’t shying away from big goals.

“Our goals are to not give up 100 yards rushing in a game, and have four sacks in a game,” Veloz said. “Those might seem like lofty goals, but we believe it’s easily attainable with all the talent we have here.”

The offensive line is a different story in terms of experience. First-year offensive line coach Ty Howle inherits a group with 69 combined starts in their careers. Junior center Jacob Judd is a Preseason First Team All-MVFC pick. Deflecting the spotlight, Judd said he wouldn’t be surprised if more people know about guys like James Torgerson, Matt Zobrist, Josh Baldus and Drew Wagner.

“I hope some of our other offensive lineman get the recognition they deserve,” Judd said. “We have some great guys that can really play.”

The Leathernecks will shift to a pro-style offense this season under the direction of head coach Charlie Fisher, with Ty Howle as the new offensive line coach. Howle was a two-year starter at left tackle for the Nittany Lions while Fisher was at Penn State. He said his best coaching tool has been using his own playing experience as lessons.

“It’s neat watching these guys, because I’ve played in this offense at Penn State,” Fisher said. “I remember going through all the things they’ve been through. I can help them out because I’ve been in
their shoes.”

There have been plenty of changes, but Howle is confident that his group’s experience will allow for a smooth transition.

“It’s always nice to have guys who’ve had experience and have a high football IQ,” Howle said. “They’re all bought in and excited. It’s a great group to work with. As a whole they’ve picked up the offense very well.”

“The adjustment hasn’t been as bad as one might think,” James Torgerson added. “It’s more complicated with new terminology, but it is a lot of the same stuff. We’re still blocking the same guys and running the same combos. We’ve been emphasizing low pads, eyes up, great feet and knocking the defensive line off the ball. We want our identity to be a smash-mouth, power football team.”

Twitter: @NobodyFeiner