Mitch Browning has spent 15 months as the offensive line coach at the University of Akron, trying to do the most with the least.
In the spring of 2010, the 2010 regular season and the spring of 2011, the Zips have been woefully undermanned on the offensive line, with players forced to learn multiple positions and then carry out the tasks inherent to those spots.
''We have guys playing center and guard, guys playing guard and center, guys playing both tackles, guys playing tackle and guard,'' said Browning, who is in his 33rd year as an assistant coach. ''There are a lot of moving parts.''
Last spring, Browning had nine scholarship players available. But, with injuries, the number dropped to seven during the regular season.
That forced Zac Kasparek to start at right guard but also be the lone backup at center and right guard. It also meant that Pat McCloskey was a backup at right guard, but he started late in the year at tight end.
(That led to this rarity: McCloskey actually had two jersey numbers last season. If he was at guard, he had to wear No. 69. If he was at tight end, he had to wear No. 86. Officials were aware of that, and the opposing coach would be notified if there was a jersey switch during a game. However, that did not happen in 2010.)
This spring, Browning has eight players to rotate in various positions. The starters are Kasparek and McCloskey at the guard spots, Jake Anderson and Mitch Straight at the tackles and Adam Bice at center.
The backups are Jarrod Pughsley at both tackles, Paul Simkovich at both guards and Vinnie Rizzo at center.
''It's an extremely tough situation. Guys have to take a lot of reps,'' said Browning, whose eight previous coaching stops included Minnesota, Syracuse, Tennessee, Kansas and Kent State. ''I will say we have a great group of guys here. They are extremely durable. They show up every day and work hard. I can't say enough about them.''
Browning said he did not have to turn into a salesman to convince second-year head coach Rob Ianello that his area of concentration should be a recruiting priority. The Zips signed five offensive linemen in February, with Rizzo reporting early and the four others coming for preseason camp.
''It was common knowledge we needed help. You really don't need to pound the table and say we needed to sign some guys,'' Browning said. ''We knew we had to do it.''
The four incoming freshmen will help fill out the depth chart but might not be able to help right away on the field.
''It takes time to develop offensive linemen,'' Browning said. ''When the new guys come in, that's going to be extremely important. It won't solve all the problems, but it will help.''
Linebacker on diamond
Darius Washington, a freshman walk-on from Twinsburg High School, has a chance to get some playing time in 2011 at linebacker and on special teams, but he is not participating in spring practice.
That's because he is playing baseball for UA coach Pat Bangtson. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Washington, an outfielder, has played in 11 of the Zips' 26 games and is batting .129.
''We like him. He needs to develop. He needs to get stronger. But he is very athletic and I think he is a guy who, if he hangs with us, could help us,'' Ianello said. ''I am fine with him playing baseball. I told Pat, 'If he could help you, he should play for you.' ''
Youth clinic set
The Zips will hold a youth football clinic in conjunction with the spring game April 16 at InfoCision Stadium.
The clinic, which is for players in eighth grade or lower, will be held at 11 a.m., which is two hours before the start of the spring game.
The clinic will include interactive instruction by Zips coaches and players.
Registration is encouraged and can be done at http://www.GoZips.com. An emergency information and release form also must be filled out and signed by a parent or guardian. Same-day registration begins at 10 a.m.
For information, call 330-972-7848.
Linebacker Matt Little (turf toe) will not play the rest of the spring, including the spring game. Receiver Antoine Russell (ankle) and safety Josh Richmond (concussion) missed practice time this week, and their status for next week is uncertain. . . . The spring game will have an offense-vs.-defense format. . . . Reporting date for fall camp has been set for Aug. 3, exactly one month before the Sept. 3 opener at Ohio State. . . . Former UA defensive lineman Nate Robinson has signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.
Tom Gaffney can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://zips.ohio.com.