ASU line headache soothed by Bayer


For all intents and purposes, the respect and admiration thrown in Jacob Bayer's direction by his teammates and coaches during Arkansas State University's annual media day last week was well-earned.

The 6-3, 315-pound junior transfer was called a "leader" by ASU Coach Butch Jones, and offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf labeled Bayer a "communicator."

However, there is a description -- one that neither Jones nor Heckendorf used -- that may be even more compelling when talking about the team's newest linchpin along the offensive line.

Opportunistic.

"[Fall camp] is never really fun, but I'm taking advantage of it any way I can," Bayer said. "For me, I'm at it 14 hours a day, and it's a grind. But I've learned to love it.

"Since I got here, I'm like, 'I've got two years left, and in my first year, I'm going to ball out.' So I'm going to take full advantage of it to become the best player I can possibly be."

His team has already gotten an inkling of just how good the Texas native is during his short but impactful time at ASU.

Bayer arrived at ASU during late winter when he enrolled as a mid-year transfer from Lamar University. In his two previous seasons with the Cardinals, he started all 22 games before ultimately deciding to enter the transfer portal shortly after the 2022 season ended. After mulling offers from a number of schools, including Coastal Carolina, Rice and UNLV, Bayer eventually committed to the Red Wolves.

He hasn't looked back since, and his presence has been about as large as any of the other 36 newcomers ASU has on its roster.

"Our players rally around [Bayer]," Jones said. "Make no mistake about it, he's the leader of the offensive line, but I've been really pleased with that entire group. You have some individuals that have competitive character. They take pride in what they do.

"Jacob Bayer is kind of the anchor, so to speak, of the O-line. He's the quarterback, and all the line calls go through him, but our players gravitate towards him. And not just in the offensive line room and not just on the offensive side of the ball, but in our entire program."

The difference that Bayer has made is huge, considering he's yet to play a game with the Red Wolves. But what he's been able to do and how he's been able to do it says a lot about how he's carried himself thus far.

It also speaks volumes about how much the coaching staff believes in what Bayer brings to their front line.

ASU returned two starters on the offensive line in Mekhi Butler and Makilan Thomas. That duo helped the Red Wolves amass more than 350 yards of total offense four times last season. But Jones wanted to get a bit deeper, which led to him bringing in several transfers to bolster that unit.

"We've got size and strength across the entire O-line," Bayer said. "I think the biggest thing for us is that we've just got to keep conditioning, keep communicating like we have. We've got to make sure we know where guys are coming from on the D-line, making sure we're always on top of things.

"After a 10-play or 12-play drive, we want to make sure we're still putting our hands down, still pancaking people and moving guys off the ball."

Those intentions should be music to ASU's ears after it rushed for just 88 yards per game a year ago, which ranked last in the Sun Belt Conference. But the added bulk in the interior, along with some additional depth in the backfield, bodes well for the Red Wolves' chances in 2023. Bayer noted that he's already seen some positive developments in several of his position mates since the spring.

"Some guys have made drastic changes when it comes to improvement," he said. "Some who are coming into their sophomore year, redshirt freshman year, have made those jumps to where they maybe went from a third-string guy to now being the sixth man in the rotation. That's the biggest thing I've noticed from the group in terms of improvement."

Those transformations have also ramped up the expectation level for the team as a whole. Still, the anticipation starts with Bayer, who's lining up at center. As he goes, so does the rest of the offensive linemen.

"He's our communicator, and that's where it starts," Heckendorf said. "When you've got a guy that's playing that position with confidence ... he obviously brings in a lot of game experience. He's getting everybody on the same page, and that's great to see.

"Now we've got to continue to develop the depth of who's that next guy, who's the guy after that, continue to pile the depth in that room because that'll service you through the whole season."

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Bayer at a glance

CLASS Junior

POSITION Center

HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-3/315 pounds

HOMETOWN Grandview, Texas

HIGH SCHOOL Grandview

NOTEWORTHY Helped guide his team to a pair of state championships in high school. … Had scholarship offers from other schools such as Air Force and Wyoming but originally signed with Lamar University. … Started every game at Lamar before transferring in the fall of 2022 and signing with Arkansas State.

 


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