Injuries Across the Offensive Line Force Petrula to Step Up

Near the end of preseason camp, Boston College football head coach Steve Addazio said that he planned to rotate seven offensive linemen all year. The idea was that he’d be able to cycle guys in and out of the trenches to give them a quick breather—a necessary precaution in an up-tempo offense. And why not? He had the depth.

Addazio doesn’t have that same luxury anymore.

Starting center Jon Baker went down with a season-ending knee injury during the fourth quarter of BC’s opener against Northern Illinois. Having started each of the past three seasons, the senior captain was the staple of the offensive line, and really, the Eagles’ offense. Couple Baker’s injury with sophomore Elijah Johnson’s—the starting left guard in 2016—offseason ACL tear, and BC is down two starters from last year’s unit.

Typically, redshirt freshman Shane Leonard would fill in for Baker, but the backup center has been sidelined for the past three weeks with an injury of his own. The timetable on Leonard remains unclear. Addazio noted that he’d be practicing “in graduated fashion” this week, but it’s looks as if he’ll sit out Saturday’s game against Notre Dame.

Without a real replacement for Baker, Addazio turned to true freshman Ben Petrula—someone he sees as the future of the Eagles’ offensive line.

“Thank God, we actually have some depth right now,” Addazio told reporters in Monday’s press conference. “Now, our depth is a little youthful. But we’re so excited about a guy like Ben Petrula. Ben’s going to be a really fine player.”

But prior to last weekend’s game against Wake Forest, the right tackle had never started a collegiate game, let alone played the center position. At times, the inexperience was glaring.

After being forced to punt on its game-opening drive, BC bounced back with an impressive second series. Anthony Brown seemed to be finding a rhythm in the passing game, and Jonathan Hilliman was moving the chains on the ground. That was, until Petrula sailed a snap over Brown’s head. Brown scurried to the ball and hopped on it, just to maintain possession. Petrula’s mistake cost the Eagles 24 yards and an unquantifiable amount of momentum.

Aside from a few other off-center snaps, Petrula held his own. Addazio noted that the true freshman really was thrown in the line of fire. Getting off the snap is one thing, but calling all of the protections at the line is a whole different entity in itself. All said and done, the unit didn’t give up a single sack on the afternoon. Still, without Baker, Leonard, and, for the most part, senior left guard Sam Schmal, the offensive line wasn’t what Addazio imagined it’d be just a few weeks ago.

Schmal should return this week, but with Leonard still hurt, Petrula—a true freshman—and Brown—a redshirt freshman—are the apex of BC’s offense. On paper, that’s going to take some time to develop. The problem is,the Eagles don’t have time. Already 0-1 in the ACC, BC is set to host the Irish this weekend, and travel to Death Valley to take on No. 3 Clemson next week.

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Staff

September 11, 2017