Created:Wednesday, March 28, 2012 11:51 p.m.CDT

Cohesiveness key for offensive line

Tyler Pitt (left) of the Northern Illinois offensive line works out during a drill Wednesday at Huskie Stadium at NIU’s first spring practice. (Rob Winner –

DeKALB – Northern Illinois senior guard Logan Pegram knows camaraderie has a lot to do with the success of an offensive line.

In 2011, every starter returned to the Huskies’ lineup, so that sense of togetherness always was prevalent.

This season, Pegram is the only returning starter.

“The important thing that we’ve talked about, over the course of spring ball, let’s build into a unit,” Pegram said. “Not necessarily the ones and twos, but a whole unit.”

So Pegram has made it an emphasis to make sure this group grows together. The offensive linemen live close to one another, sit by each other during team functions and work out together in the offseason.

For now, building an offensive line that doesn’t separate into “ones and twos” won’t be a challenge, because there are no “ones and twos.” NIU coach Dave Doeren doesn’t expect to know what the starting offensive line will look like for the next few weeks.

“Our two deep on the O-line will be in flux probably for 15 days,” Doeren said.

“Wherever it starts, it won’t be where it ends more than likely. “

After Pegram, the offensive line isn’t completely inexperienced – seven returners saw time last season.

That group of lineman was able to grow together.

“We were the backup line last year, and we went through practices together,” junior center Michael Gegner said. “As a backup O-line, we became very close.”

Much of the responsibility into making a group of backups into game-ready starters will rest on Pegram.

Offensive line coach Rod Carey says Pegram’s status as a leader has to do with more than just the fact he’s been around the longest. Carey balked when asked whether Pegram was the “de facto” leader.

“‘De facto’ doesn’t fit, he is the leader,” Carey said. “He’s a caring and hard-working kid. Does [being a leader] fit his personality? When you’re a senior and you care as much as him, it does.”

Beyond the five offensive linemen who saw time last season, three freshmen redshirted. Gegner said Pegram is always the first one those youngsters turn to for advice.

Practices in March and April will be as big of a deal for the offensive line as any unit.

But Pegram doesn’t think building chemistry will be a problem.

“It was challenging at first, at least in winter conditioning,” Pegram said.

“We’ve been practicing together and running drills together. Then you get that camaraderie I felt with [last year’s offensive line]. I think [this spring] is a great opportunity. They’ve played behind those guys, and they’ve kind of grown. It’s different, but I kind of like it. It brings a new feel.”

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