The advanced metrics for the Western Michigan offensive had them as one of the best offensive lines in the nation. The run blocking yielded yards and running lanes and the pass blocking gave Eleby time to find receivers— often an excess of time.
My favorite ways to measure an offensive line are stuff rate, line yards and front seven havoc rate. Stuff rate is the percentage of plays that are stopped at the line of scrimmage or behind. Line yards is a weighted formula where the line gets credit or blame for certain distances of yardage gained during a run play. The line is credited with 120% of lost yards, 100% of the first four yards and 50% of yards five to ten. The maximum for each rush is 6.5 yards. Front seven havoc rate is the percentage of plays that result in a tackle for loss or a forced fumble.
Individual plays may get incorrectly categorized, but with enough data, the teams with the best lines will find their way to the top.
The offensive line as a unit finished seventh in the nation in stuff rate, seventh in offensive line yards and eighth in front seven havoc rate. The offensive line was a strong group in 2021 and lead to the success that the Broncos had last season.
That’s the good news. The bad news is the center Mike Caliendo, the left tackle Wesley French and the right tackle Mark Brooks all graduated. The starters that return are sophomore left guard Jacob Gideon and redshirt senior right guard Dylan Deatherage.
There is a lot to replace along the lines and the entire offense relies on their ability to perform. If redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Salopek can get some time to throw, the game can start to slow down for him early this season.
Adam VanderVest was the third tackle in the rotation for the Broncos in 2021 and could step into a starting tackle role. As a true sophomore VanderVest has the size to play the position. He’s 6’6” and 310 pounds. He fits right into the footprint left by the departed tackles, French and Brooks.
The other options to take the position are Eleasah Anderson, Dylan Deatherage and converted tight end Jack Sherwin. Anderson is a graduate transfer from Sam Houston State after leaving Baylor. He played two seasons at Baylor and started two games as a redshirt freshman and was an immediate starter for three seasons at Sam Houston.
Deatherage was the starting right guard for the 2021 team and could be a leader of the position group. Only two players return on the line and as the redshirt senior, a move to left tackle would solidify him as the senior leader.
Sherwin was recruited to Western Michigan as an offensive lineman but was temporarily moved to tight end to use his athleticism while he bulked up. At 295 pounds, he’s finally ready to compete for a starting spot on the line.
The tackle positions are wide open as fall camp starts. Deatherage has an inside track as a senior and has started the previous three seasons, but that’s not a guarantee. If Anderson, VanderVest or Sherwin take the positions Deatherage has played the interior for multiple seasons.
Jeff Thorne is the new offensive coordinator brought in to manage the offense and add wrinkles to the existing playbook. A new evaluator could level the playing field for the guys that don’t have experience and give them a chance.
Michigan State is the week one opponent and their front seven is traditionally a strong group. Whoever the Broncos put at the tackle spots will have their hands full from the jump in 2022.
Sophomore Jacob Gideon was recruited to Western as a center and now that Mike Caliendo has graduated, he will slide over from left guard and take the job. Gideon struggled in 2021 with a number of false starts. Taking over the center-quarterback exchange should make that better, right? Worse, or even the same, would be a disaster.
If the transition is successful, Gideon will be a mainstay on the line for the Broncos for 2023 and 2024, provided health and transfer are not in his future.
If Deatherage moves to a tackle position, both guard positions are up for grabs. The likely candidates are redshirt senior Trevor Campbell and redshirt sophomore Addison West.
Campbell has been in the WMU program since 2017 without seeing the field very often. In 2021 he made two starts at right guard and played 13 snaps against Delaware State in 2018. His patience could pay off and he may finally be getting his chance to shine.
West is another young player that could take the field for the Broncos. He’s young by eligibility but this will be his fourth season in Kalamazoo thanks to the 2020 season not counting. He appeared in seven games in 2021 despite not getting a start. West was a three-star prospect from Cary, Illinois in the 2019 class with four other MAC offers. This season is his season to crack the starting lineup and make an impact at WMU.
The projected center, Gideon, will be the leader of the interior line this fall. His experience is going to be key to the communication of the interior of the offensive line. The fastest way to the backfield is through the interior of the line. They have this fall to get gel and get on the same page.