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McNeese State offensive line coach Rob Sale. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

McNeese State offensive line coach Rob Sale. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)

Sale has Cowboys offensive line on quick road to success

Last Modified: Wednesday, November 27, 2013 4:29 PM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

McNeese State offensive line coach Rob Sale and his wife Amanda welcomed a new member to the family on Monday when their second son was born.

If Sale parents anything like he coaches, young Briggs Thomas Sale may be walking and potty-trained by this time next year.

Heck, it didn’t take him that long to turn two defensive linemen into all-conference caliber offensive linemen.

“If you go back to the beginning of the season, I’m proud of the progress our offensive line’s made,” head coach Matt Viator said last week. “We only had two guys back who had played. Now (Arinze) Agada and (Antoine) Everett, that’s two players as good as any we’ve had on the offensive line. So that was obviously a good place to start. But Coach Sale and those kids have done a great job taking two defensive linemen and playing so good.”

Center Nick Gorman and left guard Quentin Marsh are the aforementioned former defensive linemen. Both made the switch in spring practice, and both were named honorable mention all-Southland after 12 games at their new positions.

Their quick road to success may a surprise some, but not Sale. He freely admits to coveting both of them last season.

“I am guilty,” Sale said. “When I first got here, looking on the other side of the ball at the defensive linemen, I thought, ‘Those two look like offensive linemen,’ and I basically started recruiting them from the first day I got here.”

Defensive line comes with at least a touch more glamor than its offensive counterpart — it’s hard to imagine Michael Strahan co-hosting morning shows if he had been a center — so it’s not surprising Sale initially was met with some resistance.

“At first they were like, ‘No, no, no,’” Sale said. “But they were kind of down on the depth chart. And when you lose as many offensive linemen as we did (to graduation), it’s a chance to immediately play. We said, ‘You can stay where you’re at in the defensive line rotation or come in and make an immediate impact.”

It was an effective Sale’s-pitch.

“To their credit, they did what the team needed them to do,” Sale said. “They were very unselfish, and they’ve made a huge impact to this football team.”

Sale said it made his job easier to have a pair of first-team all-conference players in Antoine Everett and Arinze Agada helping mold the young pups.

“Antoine could play in the SEC,” said Sale, who started for LSU in 2002. “Arinze is just as good.”

Agada was named the Southland’s top offensive lineman by opposing coaches.

“He’s just so athletic and so instinctive,” Sale said. “There’s some things he does that it doesn’t matter who’s the offensive line coach. They’re things you just don’t teach. It’s just how the game flows to him. He sets the physical presence for the offensive line. He’s always downfield finishing somebody.

“But I’d say his best attribute is he tries to get better every day at practice. Quentin’s a lot like that as well, and so they make it contagious to everybody else.”

Agada is studious off the field, pursuing a degree in engineering. He’s played the role of professor for his younger teammates, but that doesn’t mean it is a one-way relationship.

“At first there were some bumpy roads as you tried to teach them,” Agada said. “But they’ve really jumped into the roles and stepped up. At times I find myself learning from them and what they do. They teach me just as much as I teach them.”

The unit started gelling with a dominant performance in a 53-21 season-opening win at Football Bowl Subdivision South Florida. The Cowboys allowed no sacks and gained 424 yards against a highly touted defensive line.

“It was nothing but a boost in confidence,” Sale said.

The line has improved as the season has gone on.

The Cowboys were second with an average of 236.9 rushing yards per game in Southland play. They were tied for second with Stephen F. Austin for fewest sacks allowed with seven — an impressive feat considering the Lumberjacks’ rapid-fire passing attack rarely allows defenses enough time to get to the passer by its schematic nature. Southeastern Louisiana only allowed one sack, which is a testament to both the line and the elusiveness of Payton Award candidate Bryan Bennett at quarterback.

It helps to have consistency. The Cowboys have had the same five linemen start every game — Everett, Marsh, Gorman, Agada and sophomore right tackle Ben Jones.

“Ben Jones has met every expectation that I’ve asked,” Sale said. “His strength is assignment football. He’s always in the right position and is going to do the right thing.”

And then there are the two honorary linemen who have come along with help from tight ends coach Broderick Fobbs.

“(Tight ends) Nic Jacobs and Zach Hetrick have tremendously helped us in the run game,” Sale said. “They do catch the ball, but they’re heavily involved in the run game. I consider them offensive linemen.”

Jacobs, an LSU transfer, and Hetrick, a redshirt freshman who also switched from the defensive line, are just another pair of newcomers who have made an immediate blocking impact.

As Sale is showing, the fresher the face, the better his work. So don’t be surprised if we hear from his newest arrival well ahead of schedule.

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