Offensive line high priority for Hounds

Eastern New Mexico University center Gil Shackelford, right, blocks freshman defensive player Roger Deleon during practice Saturday in Portales. The offensive line was working on pass blocking. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

PORTALES — With four starters to replace from a year ago, Eastern New Mexico University’s football team is trying to sort things out in its offensive line during spring drills.

Offensive line coach Draco Miller said the Greyhounds are making progress as they head into the final week of spring work.

“Every day we’re getting better,” said Miller, an ENMU offensive guard from 1999-2002. “Our focus is not to be the best line in the LSC (Lone Star Conference) by the end of the spring; our focus is to get better with each practice.”

The only returning starter back is left tackle Marcus Smith, who will be a senior, but Miller said there is strong competition at all positions.

The Hounds have their second consecutive 3:30 p.m. Sunday scrimmage on tap today at Greyhound Stadium. They wrap up spring workouts Saturday in the annual Green & Silver contest, set for 2 p.m. at Clovis High’s Leon Williams Stadium.

Both scrimmages are open to the public.

While he’s the only returning starter in the line, Smith pointed out that the cupboard is hardly bare.

“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back with some experience,” said the 6-foot-2, 255-pound Smith, who is from Hereford. “They’ve gotten to see the best in action (referring to the graduating seniors), so I think we’ll be ready.”

Among the other returnees, junior guard Landon Schumacher of Plainview saw the most playing time in 2005, while guard Kevin Parker and center-guard Gil Shackelford also gained some experience.

“We want to see who’s going to emerge in 15 (spring) practices,” Miller said. “If guys do that, they’ll do nothing but get better.

“I told the offensive line, ‘We’re not changing anything. We’re just picking up where we left off in November.’”

Smith acknowledges that he’ll be expected to have more of a leadership role. Last year, he was the only starter not returning in the line.

“I’m just trying to get better at communicating, and trying to get everybody on the same page,” he said. “I think we’re pretty settled at this point. Everybody feels comfortable with each other.”

Draco thinks the 6-7, 315-pound Schumacher will be ready to step in, noting that “he’s got a little ‘nasty’ in him.” Parker (6-0, 275) and Shackelford (6-1, 265) have also been playing well, he added.

Parker is from Plainview and Shackelford is from Wink, Texas.

“Gil is so aggressive that I can play him at center or guard,” Miller said. “When the spring is over, we’ll evaluate which position we want him to go to.”

ENMU head coach Mark Ribaudo said the team is trying to solidify things in a number of areas in the spring.

“I think the O-line is pretty critical to our success next year,” he said. “We’ve got good players there. We’re just trying to find the right combinations.”