Broncos O-line will dominate MAC play again in 2021, led by both brain and brawn up front.
When 2020 began, Western Michigan was breaking in a ton of new offensive players to replace some program legends. Gone were 2019 All-MAC first team performers RB LeVante Bellamy, OL Luke Juriga, TE Giovanni Ricci, return specialist Keith Mixon, and All-MAC third team performer QB Jon Wassink. Bellamy was also the MAC offensive player of the year in 2019.
So what did WMU do offensively get new players settled in and headed in the right direction in 2020?
They rode the offensive line.
In the 58-13 destruction of Akron in the season opener, the Broncos got behind the offensive line to set the tone. The Broncos ran the ball 18 times on its first three drives, imposing its will on the Zips defense in route to 17 points. The Broncos never looked back in 2020, averaging about 41 points per contest, good for ninth-best in the FBS.
The Broncos were a Top 25 offense in the country despite playing a six-game season, averaging 479.7 yards of offense per game, and an astounding 7.34 yards and 32 total touchdowns, putting WMU 16th overall in the country. With four of the five starters returning for 2021, the Broncos offensive line could be the best in the MAC.
It is hard to think WMU’s O-line could improve in 2021 but when I look at this group, I’m reminded of what Ohio Bobcat head coach Frank Solich said about intelligent players: “smart guys get better.” In fact, WMU’s four returning O-line starters are smart people… very smart people.
Combined, the group has earned 12 career All-Academic Honors between Mike Caliendo, (Master’s in biomedical science, four-time recipient), Mark Brooks (integrated supply management, three-time recipient), Dylan Deatherage (biomedical sciences, three-time recipient), and Wesley French (Master’s in business administration, two-time recipient.)
The returning group is led by interior lineman Caliendo, who figures to be one of the top players in the MAC in 2021. Caliendo has appeared in more than 40 career games as a Bronco and also earned two All-MAC non-academic honors, including first team honors in 2020. Caliendo should have an opportunity to play at the next level when his WMU career comes to an end this season.
WMU has one major loss to overcome this season, LT Jaylon Moore, a two-time All-MAC selection and a 5th round NFL draft selection of the San Francisco 49ers. To compensate for the loss of Moore, in spring practice, Caliendo moved from guard to center and 2020 center Wesley French moved to Moore’s spot at left tackle.
The Broncos held spring auditions for the new starter to assume Caliendo’s left guard position. Head coach Tim Lester indicated that a left guard could come from anywhere on the roster, including the tackle position. Some candidates Lester mentioned specifically were Jacob Gideon, Trevor Campbell, and Addison West. Suffice it to say, whomever wins the job, he will be surrounded by some of the best help in the MAC.
Tight ends are experienced, led by two-time All-MAC academic honoree Brett Borske. At 6’6’ and 275 pounds, Borske has the size of an offensive linemen and was an important part of the run blocking success the Broncos enjoyed in 2020. With a few more years of eligibility to mature, I think Borske will continue to improve.
Next week we take a look at Western Michigan’s skill position players in 2021 and, yeah, they are good too. Really good.