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Four weeks ago, FAU’s offensive line had a sense of coherence.
Now after a key injury and a clash with the flu, the group is rotating bodies and trying to find some stability.
“We’re practicing with four or five different groups of guys,” right tackle Braden Lyons said. “We have three centers practicing, and just about everybody can play a different position.”
Following an undisclosed injury to right guard Mike Marsaille, FAU has used a variety of linemen to make up for his absence. Fifth-year senior Chris Chappell started in the place of Marsaille against USF, but last week against Middle Tennessee State, center Mustafa Johnson slide over to guard for a few plays while Stern Vile snapped the ball.
Carl Pelini attested that the rotation was due to a few players being sick, and Tuesday after practice offensive coordinator Brian Wright confirmed the notion.
"We’re down some guys, so we had to work the puzzle.” Wright said. “We were playing a lot of guys offensively that were sick, so some guys had to get some fluid and that put other guys in for a series or two.”
While Johnson’s time at guard might be labeled as a temporary, his play was still noticeable on the right side of the line. FAU ran for a season-high 182 yards against MTSU, despite playing from behind the entire contest.
Vile, who saw his first action at FAU, was effective calling out the cadences and didn’t miss a beat while he filled in for Johnson at center.
"They did good for us,” Wright said. “Moose [Mustafa Johnson] is a solid player and he adds some versatility in there when we can move him to guard. Stern [Vile] also did a good job for us at center.”
The debut of Vile has been long awaited ever since his arrival on campus two years ago. The 6-foot-5, 335-pound senior and native of the Netherlands, transferred from junior college and was expected to make an instant impact at one of the tackle positions. However, after a season on the bench, Vile has finally found the field in a different role.
"There were my first reps at FAU really. I got a little bit here and there, but I think I did ok at center. I got use to the game tempo and I was correct on most of the calls,” Vile said.
Vile continued to practice at center on Tuesday while Johnson saw some time at right guard. The Owl’s aren’t expecting Marsaille to return from injury this season, which means the coaches will continue to use both Chappell and Johnson at guard.
Lyons, who has been a regular at tackle, believes the the unit has embraced the rotation and has been able to work with the new faces along the line.
"When Mike [Marsaille] got hurt early, ever since then it's been getting use to playing with someone who's next to you, so it's nothing real new,” Lyons said.
FAU travels to Rice on Saturday, and will face a defensive front that features sophomore tackle Christian Covington – who’s been regarded as one of Conference-USA’s top NFL draft prospects. Covington has accounted for two sacks this season and has a knack for working his way into opposing backfields.