LEWISBURG, Pa. – For four seasons, 44 games in a row, Julién Davenport started at left tackle. By the end of his time as a Bison, he was a five-time All-American and four-time All-Patriot League selection. He’ll continue his playing career with the Houston Texans after being taken in the fourth round, 130th overall, in April’s NFL Draft.
Replacing Davenport, who was Bucknell’s first NFL Draft pick since 1969, would be a challenge in itself. But the Bison also lost their other four starting offensive linemen from 2016 in Griff Barth, Ned Bent, Devlin Brennan and Cary Hess. Since 2013, that quartet combined to start 62 games and appear in 117.
“We have to replace five seniors, and that’s going to be a work in progress,” said head coach Joe Susan. “When you look at what our potential is offensively, it’s going to be related to the development and evolution of our young offensive line.”
Only two of Bucknell’s returning offensive linemen, Chase Watkins and Pat Finn, have game experience. Watkins has appeared in 13 games, including all 11 in 2016, while Finn played in the final four games of the 2015 campaign in extra-point situations.
At the end of the camp, Susan listed Watkins (LT), Finn (C) and Noah Stephenson (RT) as starters. There's still competition for the two inside positions, with Josh Yoder, Erik Lukner and P.J. Barr all in the mix to start. Susan also said Chuck Sanders, who was named the Most Improved Offensive Player during spring ball, will make an impact as Finn’s backup and as a guard.
“One thing [assistant coach] Darnell Stapleton does is he cross-trains those guys,” Susan said. “We'll have seven we feel comfortable can play within a game. And that's a real important thing because somewhere along the way, you're going to have someone else play.”
One player who really impressed Susan during camp was Finn. Susan said Finn has embraced his role at center and developed into a leader in the trenches.
“Pat's not a guy who talks much, and our center has to talk a bunch,” Susan said. “He's done an outstanding job of communicating the changes we have to make at the line of scrimmage. He was also a very good high school wrestler, and I think that gives him an advantage at the college level.”
Finn said he's been trying to apply the lessons he learned from last year's starters to help the offense run smoothly.
“Last year, we had five seniors, and they did a good job of showing us what we needed to do to succeed,” Finn said. “Once they graduated, Chase and I both knew we'd have to step up, and we've been both trying to put forward our best effort to show the younger guys the ropes. Last year, I didn't do much talking, but it's my time to step up and make calls, and I've tried to do that.”
While the offensive line was tested during camp by the defensive line, traditionally one of Bucknell's strongest position groups, Susan said there's no substitute for game experience.
“The most important thing you can have as an offensive lineman is game experience,” Susan said. “It's different than the practice field. I really think that as they go through the process of playing games, they will get better and better.”
NOTES: Bucknell has 12 offensive linemen on the roster: one senior, two juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen ... Of Bucknell's current top seven, only Watkins and Finn are upperclassmen ... All of Bucknell's offensive linemen stand at least six feet and weigh at least 260 pounds ... Stapleton will once again work with the offensive line ... Entering preseason camp, Susan listed Watkins (LT), Derek Bastinck (LG), Finn (C), Lukner (RG) and Stephenson (RT) as starters ... Susan praised Justin Falcone, noting he's shown great improvement, and said he will be Bucknell's eighth man up on the offensive line ... Susan was a standout offensive lineman at the University of Delaware during his playing days ... Barr said Stapleton has done a great job of helping the newcomers transition to the college game: “He's helped us develop into the players we need to be. The college game is a whole other level mentally and physically, but he and the rest of the squad have done a great job helping make that transition easier so we can contribute right away.”
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