BOZEMAN — The left tackle position has been a treasure trove of talent through the years at Montana State.
From Jason Westbrock to Brent Swaggert, to Lou Saucedo to Mike Person, and to Conrad Burbank and John Weidenaar, six different MSU left tackles have been named to All-Big Sky Conference and/or All-America teams in the past 25 seasons.
Last week, current left tackle Mitch Brott (a second-team all-conference pick in 2018) was named to the STATS preseason FCS All-America third team, which came on the heels of his selection to the preseason All-Big Sky list earlier in July.
Brott, a senior from Billings West, is in his second season at left tackle after playing right tackle his first two years. He has already made 35 career starts.
The 6-foot-6, 290-pound Brott is ready to be the linchpin of MSU’s line, a veteran group that lost one starter from last year’s team (center Alex Neale) and boasts six guys with significant experience.
“It just shows that I have the chance to be a really good offensive lineman in this league,” Brott said, reflecting on his preseason accolades. “It kind of gives you extra confidence and it almost makes you work harder, knowing you have a chance to get some accolades at the end of the year.”
He added: “Someone just needs to step up and take charge of this group, and I feel confident doing that.”
It’s easier with quality depth. Junior left guard Taylor Tuiasosopo (6-4, 329), junior right guard Lewis Kidd (6-7, 319) and sophomore right tackle Connor Wood (6-5, 302) all join Brott as returning starters.
Sophomore Zach Redd (6-0, 285) is in the running to take over the center position, and junior guard Jake Sessions (6-5, 295) will likely have an increased role in 2019. Sophomore guard Dylan Porter (6-5, 295), a transfer from Nevada, may also provide reinforcement.
“I think that top six, barring injury, is going to be pretty solidified,” coach Jeff Choate said. “And now it’s who’s that seven (and) eight going to be?”
Last year the offensive line helped pave the way to an average of 231.8 rushing yards per game in MSU’s downhill ground attack. Troy Andersen rushed for 1,412 yards and 21 touchdowns as the quarterback, while freshman Isaiah Ifanse also eclipsed 1,000 yards.
The Bobcats gave up the fewest quarterback sacks in the Big Sky last year, and produced 18 100-yard rushers.
There’s more where that came from, but Choate and position coach Brian Armstrong nevertheless have experimented at times with the configuration of the line early in fall camp, giving reps, for instance, to Tuiasosopo at center.
It’s being done in an effort to maximize the aforementioned depth.
Choate said Tuiasosopo “has a high football intellect, and you can never have enough guys at center. I think (Redd) is very capable at center but he’s our smallest offensive lineman. That doesn’t mean he can’t do it — Shaun Sampson had a heck of a career here doing it.
“The thing that we’ve got to do is make sure we can hold up with the interior. Is he our best match? Maybe Zach’s really killing it at guard. Is that our best spot for him? Then that slides (Tuiasosopo) in. The objective is to get our best five guys on the field.”
Choate has also alluded to the possibility of the MSU going unbalanced and using six linemen in certain situations — particularly in a short-yardage or a goal-line capacity — to make up for the graduation of a guy like Curtis Amos, who was the team’s best blocking tight end.
That’s where Sessions, among others, may come in. The Colstrip product, Choate says, has morphed into a more productive lineman.
“Now that he’s a little bit more mature and has had a chance to grow into the program, he’s really developed into a pretty good leader for us and is a guy that has a lot of positive energy,” Choate said.
“He’s put the weight on that we’ve asked him to, he’s smart, he can play both guard and tackle for us, and so that’s a huge asset.”
For an offense with the makeup of MSU’s — a physical running style — the offensive line, which has beefed up through the offseason, will again shoulder a huge load.
And it’s a group that’s remains in sync.
“We’ve done a great job of continuing to form a bond,” Kidd said. “We don’t need to over-communicate. We don’t need to say a whole lot to each other. We see everything through one set of eyes instead of five sets of eyes.
“This group has done a great job of maintaining and keeping on weight, and continuing to build muscle and lose fat. We’re going to be big and athletic. That’s kind of the overall feel.”