The Miami RedHawks enter the 2022 campaign with a tangible dose of momentum which was created last December, when the team notched its first bowl victory since 2010 by upending North Texas in the Frisco Football Classic.
Miami (OH) notably returns quarterback Brett Gabbert who has catapulted the program’s résumé in his three seasons on campus by leading the RedHawks to a 2019 MAC Championship and the aforementioned bowl win. Gabbert is the lone All-MAC quarterback returning to the conference, and it is essential for the emerging star pocket passer to operate behind an effective offensive line.
The RedHawks already witnessed NFL-level offensive line talent pass through their program during Chuck Martin’s reign as head coach and Gabbert’s time as the No. 1 QB. Former left tackle Tommy Doyle was a fifth round selection by the Buffalo Bills in 2021 and he witnessed a productive rookie season which featured 65 offensive snaps and one receiving touchdown for the AFC East champions.
Working alongside NFL prestige is always beneficial and the RedHawks have several remnants from Doyle’s college days still on the roster. The centerpiece of the offensive line is Rusty Feth, who jumped into the starting lineup during the second of the 2019 MAC title season. Feth moved from right guard to center last season to spearhead a RedHawks pass protection which ranked third in the MAC and 27th in the FBS in fewest sacks allowed per game. Feth missed out on All-MAC honors in 2021, but with only two First and Second Team all-conference linemen returning in 2022, Feth rises to one of the premier names in the league.
Feth is one of four returning RedHawks to have started all 13 games in 2021. Caleb Shaffer also fits this description after serving as a reliable starting left guard over the past two-and-a-half seasons, including a starting nod in the 2019 MAC Championship Game. Feth and Shaffer return to give Miami an established interior presence, while Sam Vaughan and Reid Holskey — first-time starters in 2021 — are back to anchor the edges.
Not only did Miami shield Gabbert well with this group last fall — they also prevented opposing defenders from invading the backfield with considerable success. Only nine teams allowed fewer tackles for loss per game than the RedHawks’ 3.77. While Miami would certainly like to improve upon their middle-of-the-road rushing numbers, the offensive line provides a solid foundation by regularly preventing Gabbert and the halfbacks from getting swamped behind the line of scrimmage.
Only four members of Miami’s starting o-line are retained, so how do the RedHawks respond to that final vacancy? John Brekke is a welcome addition from the transfer portal from Holy Cross. At the FCS level, Brekke racked up First Team All-Patriot League honors while manning the left guard spot. Coming off a season with 10 starts, Brekke could finagle his way into Miami’s starting lineup, especially after the team lost experienced guards David Redding and Pete Nank.
When it comes to depth, the RedHawks are armed with several contributors who accrued valuable in-game experience last season. One is Charlie Nank (the younger brother of Pete) who played 10 games in 2021. Another is 6’7”, 315 pound redshirt sophomore Ben Jackson, who earned plenty of repetitions last season with 12 appearances, primarily on special teams. Size is the name of Miami’s game when it comes to offensive line recruiting. Jackson is one of four RedHawks linemen, along with the 6’7” Vaughan, 6’8” Ryan O’Hair and 6’8” Will Jados listed at 6’7” or taller. In addition, the roster is comprised of six linemen listed at 6’6”, causing Miami to possess a median height greater than every other MAC offensive line.
When Miami takes the field in Lexington to face Kentucky on Sept. 3, a reasonable starting lineup from left tackle to right tackle could be Vaughan, Shaffer, Feth, Brekke, and Holskey. Considering the amount of returning experience and what the group accomplished together last season, there is reasonable belief that the best line in the conference could hail from Oxford, OH.