Denver Krone was trying to stay cool, but the temperatures around 100 degrees in Texas Tech’s Jones AT&T Stadium made that difficult.
He spent all offseason preparing, working out, studying film, all for this moment he considered an achievement. He was listed as Montana State’s backup center on the depth chart before the season opener. But Krone was the one jogging onto the field for MSU’s first offensive play for his first career start.
Krone just wanted to make sure the first snap, a shotgun snap, wasn’t botched.
“Make sure I do the little things right and the big things will take care of themselves,” he said.
All his worries melted away after the first hit he took.
Krone was a surprise start in Texas Tech’s opening game, but he’s now started MSU’s first two games of the season. The Bobcats have steadily rotated seven players up front since the beginning of fall camp, but offensive line coach Brian Armstrong expects to find a solidified five “for sure” within the next few games. Bobcats head coach Jeff Choate said that likely would be the end of their nonconference schedule, which ends on Sept. 21 against Norfolk State.
No. 10-ranked MSU (1-1) next plays at Western Illinois (0-2) on Saturday.
“We’re trying to make sure we can develop some depth,” Armstrong said, “and to make sure we have the five best at any given time on the field.”
Armstrong doesn’t typically like to rotate in more than five offensive linemen. But he also feels not much separates multiple players at certain positions, so the Bobcats are allowing those linemen to play so they can stand out with their performance in live situations.
Senior left tackle Mitch Brott, sophomore right tackle Connor Wood and junior right guard Lewis Kidd appear to be solidified at their spots. On each week’s official depth chart, junior Taylor Tuiasosopo is listed as the left guard and sophomore Zach Redd is at center.
However, Krone has started at center with Redd at left guard the last two weeks. Jake Sessions was also in the starting rotation at the beginning of fall camp and has played in both of MSU’s games.
Choate said the fluidity of these spots has been partially because of Tuiasosopo’s health. However, he’s played in two games at guard with Krone at center.
Armstrong believes trying different linemen at different spots builds depth in case anyone else is hampered by injury.
“Do you want to keep the same five guys out there? There’s definitely strength in that and merit to that,” Armstrong said. “But you don’t really develop guys as fast either.”
Consistency will be key in designating full-time players. Armstrong said Krone, even though he’s 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, was consistent throughout fall camp and proved worthy of playing.
Tuiasosopo, Armstrong said, is sometimes one of the best linemen the Bobcats have. But he has to be steady and healthy for MSU to rely on him.
Chemistry is also important in finding five starting linemen. Krone said all of his fellow linemen who do play trust each other because of their at minimum three years together.
“You really do want those guys to play five as one,” Choate said. “They’ve got to almost be able to finish each other’s sentences type of thing. Know exactly how they’re going to respond when a guy moves a certain way.
“So it’s hard to not play some of those guys because they’re producing well in practice and showing good things on tape.”
Choate doesn’t think the Bobcats have quite become a cohesive group. But they’re getting there. Together, they handled Buck Buchanan Award-winning linebacker Zach Hall as MSU rushed for 265 yards against then No. 12-ranked Southeast Missouri.
Choate believes in the benefits of the current rotation. MSU’s top linemen are constantly competing against each other, which Choate said should force them to improve. Playing multiple linemen at different positions should also keep them fresh and help prevent injuries.
Extra game experience will be valuable, Choate said. But he still wants to find the right combination of five linemen and stick with them at some point.
“The sooner the better. Some of it is you get going in a game, finding what works well and keeping that group together,” Armstrong said. “Ideally, you want five guys who play together all the time and they know what the other guy is thinking and that consistency part of it. I do think we’ll get there, but we’re not there right this second.”