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Football season preview: Offensive Line/Tight Ends

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SMITHFIELD, R.I. – With playing fast a priority, the Bryant University football team will lean on its offensive line and tight ends to be a key part of the offense in 2017.

This is the fifth of an eight-part season preview for the Bryant football team. previewed the special teams on Thursday, the defensive backs on Friday, the linebackers on Saturday and the defensive line on Sunday. It will also preview the wide receivers (Tuesday), running backs (Tuesday) and quarterbacks (Wednesday) leading up to the season opener on Sept. 2.

Bryant will have to replace some experience on the offensive line that featured four senior starters in the final game of the 2016 season. Projected to fill those voids is a unit that has appeared in a combined 79 games over the last three years.

"Experience is important but it is not everything," offensive line coach Ed Morrissey said. "We need to have a culture and a belief system within the group. We go by "5 Strong" as the name of the OL and we take pride in what that means; five guys working together to accomplish the goal.  I will rely on some guys that have played but also on some guys that don't have a lot of experience.  The train always rolls and it never stops, whether its injury or whatever. We take the next guy up approach."

The experience the Black and Gold do bring back comes in the form of senior Shawn Gholson (Dinwiddie, Va.) and juniors Andrew Jones (Kennett Square, Pa.) and Pete Mestre (Shelton, Conn.). Gholson has appeared in 21 games over the last two seasons, starting all 11 games at left guard a year ago. Jones saw considerable time at center last season and is projected to open the season there on Saturday. At 6-6, Mestre has the right size but injuries have limited him to just 16 career games. He played in all 11 a year ago and hopes that 2017 will allow him the same.

But what Bryant lacks in experience, coach Morrissey hopes he can make up for with a good rotation. Senior Jeff Cohen (Hopewell Junction, N.Y.), juniors Cole Cronin (Wrightstown, N.J.), Thomas Durkin (Madison, Conn.) and Nolan Wilson (Wenham, Mass.) and freshmen Mike Andrejco (Wall, N.J.) and Robert Perez (Miami, Fla.) all could see time on Saturday.

Another name that will appear on Saturday will be that of sophomore Kyle Mann (Cutler Bay, Fla.). A fullback for the Black and Gold last season, Mann has moved to the offensive line and is the projected starter at right guard.  

"I look forward to the season and seeing how my guys compete and how hard they play," Morrissey said. "It is all about effort and attitude. Those are two things we control every day!"

And while Bryant's offensive line lacks a little in experience, the group of tight ends the Black and Gold will feature this year have seen a lot in their careers. Four of the five tight ends listed on the roster are seniors, and all have contributed in some way over the course of the last three seasons.

Seniors Joe Fine (Cumberland, R.I.), Pat Danner (Plymouth, Mass.), Ryan Carr (East Northport, N.Y.) and Ken Blasser (Pembroke, Mass.) will be the cagey veterans for the Black and Gold this year. Fine has seen his role increase each of the last two years, as he caught 10 passes for 150 yard and two scores a season ago. Danner was a mainstay on special teams and saw time at tight end a year ago, while Blasser has appeared in 22 games over the last three years. The lone underclassmen is freshman Declan Burt (Lynnfield, Mass.), a three-year standout at St. John's Prep. 

"Joe, Pat, and Ken are all going to play an important role in the offense this season," tight ends coach Ryan Mattison said. "The experience of the group has helped them to adapt quickly to the new offense and they have really bought into what we are trying to do offensively."