Charlie Dickey doesn’t view the players he coaches as tackles, centers or guards. He views them simply as offensive linemen, capable of blocking at every position up front.
The reason for his plug-and-play style is understandable. After nearly 30 years as a college offensive line coach, he has found that a versatile line is a good line. The Wildcats proved exactly that last year when Dalton Risner, a proven center, moved to right tackle during preseason camp and went on to lead a group of inexperienced blockers to impressive results. K-State’s offensive line finished 2016 as one of the nation’s most improved units, paving the way for 388.8 yards per game.
With three starters returning, including a pair of emerging stars at both tackle spots, expectations are higher this season. But Dickey looks at things the exact same way.
“My expectations never change,” Dickey said. “You have just got to always be trying to put pressure on them to play their best. Sometimes, you end up coaching them even harder when you have experience so they don’t take anything for granted. I am still on them every day to do things the right way and to execute at a high level.”
It will be difficult for Dickey to top the coaching job he pulled off last season. He helped left tackle Scott Frantz outplay former Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett (the top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft) at the Texas Bowl, he helped Risner become one of the nation’s best right tackles and he got consistent production out of Terrale Johnson, Reid Najvar, Tyler Mitchell, Abdul Beecham and Will Ash in the middle.
There were bumps along the way, but K-State’s line showed drastic improvement from season-opener to bowl game.
Dickey, who has coached offensive line at K-State since 2009 and was promoted to run-game coordinator last year, received much of the credit.
“What Coach Dickey does is, he just does a great job of coaching young guys,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “He teaches basics and is firm about it fundamentally. Our guys just get better and better, because he teaches well and is demanding, and he makes them work hard. When I say work hard, that is his expectation, and they want to live up to that expectation.”
Some argue the star of K-State’s offensive line is its coach.
“When one person goes down another one comes up just as good. I would say hats off to coach Charlie Dickey, ” said former K-State running back Charles Jones near the end of last season. “When you lose four starters you really do not know what to expect. I have seen what coach Charlie Dickey can do my whole career here. I was not scared or nervous or anything, because I knew he could get the job done.”
Dickey is both humbled and embarrassed by that kind of praise.
“It’s not about me. It’s about those guys,” Dickey said. “Those guys took a lot of pride. They knew there was a lot of talk about them being the weak link, the group we needed to worry about. They took that to heart and tried to get better every day. They showed a lot of toughness all season.”
The Wildcats will once again be tested up front this season. Though they return a solid nucleus of Frantz, Mitchell and Risner, there is uncertainty at center and right guard.
Reid Najvar will reportedly sit out the upcoming season due to injury concerns after starting all 13 games a year ago, leaving a major void at center. It appears Adam Holtorf, a sophomore with little playing experience, will try to fill in on short notice.
Without Johnson, it appears K-State will turn to Breontae Matthews at right guard. Matthews, a junior, was originally recruited to play right tackle, but Dickey decided he was better suited for guard and spent most of last season teaching him the new position.
Perhaps the lineup will change as the season progresses the same way it did a year ago. After all, that’s what Dickey’s plug-and-play style is all about. He wants his players ready for anything.
It’s a better situation than Dickey faced a year ago, when he coached four new starters and moved his best blocker from center to right tackle. But it’s not the ideal situation some pictured a month ago, when it appeared K-State’s line was returning four starters.
One thing is for sure: the Wildcats are confident in their offensive line coach.
“Coach Dickey is an amazing coach,” Frantz said. “There is no one that knows more about X’s and O’s than he does. He pushes you hard and teaches you everything you need to know. I’m glad he’s my coach.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett