Sioux offensive line drops weight

Updated: August 12, 2003, 3:11 PM ET

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- North Dakota's offensive linemen are defying the trend. While blockers elsewhere seem to be getting bigger, making 300 pounds routine, the Sioux linemen are shrinking.

If 295 pounds can be considered shrinking, that is.

"Our line coach wanted us all to be under 300 pounds this year when practice started," all-conference tackle Ben Olson said. "If we weren't under 300, we'd have to pay a fine of conditioning wind sprints."

Olson probably has a few days of practice sprints ahead of him until he reaches the standard. But Olson is closer to his goal than he is to last year's playing weight of 320. Guard Barry Smith is 20 pounds lighter at a streamlined 295 -- and liking it.

"At least one of us is a pull-blocker on every play," Smith said. "So if you're trying to block defensive backs, you can't be fat and slow. We're trying to be more athletic."

Also sleeker are fellow returning starters Chris Kuper and Brian Dokken, along with Ben Murphy and Ryan Grant, who also both figure to earn playing time. Members of the group all may be approaching 300 pounds, but they're relatively lean, at an average height of 6-foot-5{.

The offensive line figures to play a key role as UND attempts to bounce back from last year's 5-6 record after a national championship in 2001.

"The offensive line is experienced and should also be physical," head coach Dale Lennon said.

UND's running game was lacking last year, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and 140 yards per game. But the sole blame did not sit with the blockers, Lennon said.

"We didn't rush for many yards because we were always playing catch-up," he said. "We'd always find a way to give up a lot of points early, so we'd have to pass to catch up. We weren't able to play our typical game that we've played through the years."

Another running game problem was a revolving door at tailback caused by injuries and suspensions. This year's spot is wide open because freshman sensation Riza Mahmoud, who ran for 753 yards in nine games, is suspended for the season for disciplinary reasons.

Lennon said there is no front-runner for the position. The leading candidates are Jim Miller, Chris Beatty and Adam Roland, who all were slowed by injuries last season. Also in the mix are veteran Aaron Schwenzfeier and newcomer Brandon Strouth, who was the most impressive tailback in spring practice.

"Our running game won't be flashy with 70-yard runs," Lennon said. "We'll be going for the consistent gains of 4, 5 and 6 yards."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index