Hens’ ‘O’ line learning on the fly

NEWARK – Say you’re right-handed says Delaware coach Dave Brock.

Now try doing everything with your left hand for a day.

That, says Brock, isn’t too much different from what the Blue Hens are asking somebody like guard Ben Curtis to do when he switches from the left side of the offensive line to the right side.

“It is difficult switching from left to right in the middle of a game,” admits the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Curtis. “Your vision completely goes in reverse. … Sometimes I will catch myself getting in a left-handed stance on the right side. You don’t want to do that.”

But Delaware’s linemen have gotten used to making changes on the fly lately. Because of injuries, as many as four of the five starters have switched spots on the line for the Hens (2-0 CAA, 4-2 overall), who host Towson (0-3, 2-5) at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday for homecoming.

Senior J.D. Dzurko had to make the biggest move, going from guard to center after starter Brody Kern was sidelined by an injury last week. It all worked out fine as Delaware beat Elon, 34-24, on Saturday after reaching a season high in points.

Still, there were a couple times when Dzurko’s shotgun snaps were an adventure.

“I thought Trent (Hurley) did an unbelievable job,” coach Dave Brock said about the senior quarterback. “If there’s an afterlife, he may come back as a shortstop. He’s a good middle infielder. He scooped up a lot of tough snaps – high and low.”

Brock, though, knows there’s nothing easy about what Dzurko was being asked to do. As of Monday, Kern’s status for the Towson game was still up in the air.

With Kern out last week, redshirt freshman Jake Trump made his first start at right tackle. The Hens have only seven or eight players in its rotation of offensive linemen.

“Depending on which piece of the puzzle is missing, the other pieces move,” said Brock.

Dzurko, the only senior in the group, said playing center was more a mental challenge for him than anything.

“You go from hearing the calls and figuring out what to do to being the guy that makes the calls on the line,” he said. “I have to ID the backers, I’ve got to tell everybody else where they’ve got to go. Then if I get calls from our tackles or from Trent that there’s a blitz on, I have to adjust and make that call.

“Just being the guy organizing the line, that’s the biggest challenge.”

But offensive linemen usually aren’t interested in making excuses. Delaware’s offensive linemen say they’ve been trained for situations like this.

They’ll keep adjusting if they have to and find a way to try to make it all work.

“I trust all the guys that we’ve got playing for us,” said Dzurko. “From when the season started, I knew that if Brody ever went down, I was the next center in. So every week, I don’t just learn guard, I’ve got to know who we’re ‘IDing’ and how we’re organizing the ‘O’ line.”

“We still need to keep improving and Coach is going to push us to improve even more,” said Curtis. “But it was a good stepping stone – especially for a young group.”

Chip on their shoulders

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more thrilling comeback Delaware victory than the Hens’ 32-31 win over No. 7 Towson last season.

Trailing by 21 points in the fourth quarter, the Hens pulled out the victory when QB Trevor Sasek hit Rob Jones with a three-yard touchdown pass and then the two-point conversion with just 19 seconds left. Delaware scored 15 points in the last 48 seconds.

“What we did in the fourth quarter was absolutely crazy,” said senior defensive end Chris Corvino. “I did not see it coming whatsoever.”

“The locker room after that game was ridiculous,” said Curtis. “It was honestly one of the best moments I’ve had playing football – just how we came together as a team in the last few minutes. Winning with your brothers like that and just seeing everybody’s look at the end of the game, it’s amazing.”

Of course, the Hens figure that the Tigers’ memories of that night are a little different. It was one of only three losses for Towson, which went to the NCAA FCS Division I national championship game for the first time.

After losing many of its top players to graduation, it’s a much different Towson squad that comes to Newark this week. The Tigers were thumped by James Madison, 62-7, on Saturday.

But Delaware’s players assume last year’s heart-breaking loss has left Towson with a chip on its shoulder.

“Oh, they are livid,” said Curtis. “I still get text messages from some of my friends saying, ‘We’re going to crush you guys this year.’”

“These guys definitely hate us,” said Corvino. “It’s definitely a ‘hate-hate’ game. Now that their season kind of went down the tank, they’re just going to come in guns blazing with everything they’ve got.”

Long and winding road

Corvino certainly didn’t take the easy road to where he is now.

A second-string defensive end and special teams player, he played at Division III Cortland and Lackawana Junior College, attended Morris County Community College before coming to Delaware as a walk-on. In high school, he was a backup at national power Don Bosco (N.J.) Prep where he earned All-State honors as a special-teams player.

Now, as a senior for the Hens, Corvino made the move from linebacker to defensive end as a relatively-small 6-foot-2, 225-pounder. He remembers going up against a 6-foot-9, 340-pound lineman in Delaware’s season opener at Pitt.

“I was getting manhandled,” said Corvino. “I couldn’t (even) see the running back.”

But Corvino has held his own. He’s been in on 22 tackles, including a sack.

“There’s guys that leave college and don’t go back,” said the 22-year-old Corvino. “They’re just done. But I couldn’t handle being average. That’s never been me, or what I’m about or what my coaches have taught me or what my father has taught me. I can’t be average.”

Extra points

Senior linebackers Patrick Callaway and David Mackall are now tied for the team lead in tackles with 38 apiece. … The Hens have recorded 15 sacks for losses of 104 yards this year. … Redshirt freshman Grant Roberts, a Concord High grad, is starting to make an impact as a second-string defensive tackle. He had two tackles for loss, including a sack, on Saturday. … Brock thought things just snowballed a little bit when Delaware was called for four pass interference penalties against Elon. “Once they get called once or twice in a game, then it’s kind of like, ‘Hey, throw it up.’ Now instead of having an opportunity to make a play (as an offense), it’s twofold now. You have an opportunity to not only catch the ball and have a little more timid player on the perimeter, now you also have the bonus of an interference penalty lurking out there.”

Sports editor Andy Walter can be reached at 741-8227 orwalter@newszap.com.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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