Not Big Enough?

"There's no way he can play that position. He's too small. He's too short. He won't be able to stand up to the pounding."

Last year, those comments were directed at WVU middle linebacker Ben Collins. At five feet ten inches, and at least a plateful of biscuits shy of 200 pounds, the conventional wisdom was that the teancious West Virginian would be beaten to a pulp by the end of the year.

Instead, it was Collins who dished out the punishment, as he racked up 102 tackles, good for third on the team. For good measure, Collins broke up six passes, recovered four fumbles, and sealed the win in the Backyard Brawl against Pitt with a fourth down interception on the Mountaineers' final defensive play.

This year, there are a couple of players who will be the targets of similar snap judgments. The first of those is another man in the middle, nose guard Ben Lynch.

Lynch, along with many of his mates along the defensive line, are well aware that the "undersized" label is being tossed their way.

"Definitely. Ernest (Hunter) does too," Lynch said of the size analysis. "He's my roommate during the season. We talk about it, and we see the news. We hear 'the dline is too small' or 'the dline is the weak link'. It makes you mad, but it pushes you to go further."

Lynch doesn't let the topic stop there, however. He's obviously considered the challenge that his lack of bulk provides, and plans to confront it head on.

"Ernest and I are small. You can't get around that. We're going to try to weigh more through camp. We're going to watch our diet. But, you can only do what you can do. If we play at 270, we just have to man up, and we have to get it done one way or another."

Lynch, who started on the edge of the defensive line before moving inside, laughs when recalling a comment he made in the spring of 2002 about eventually moving in to the nose.

"I guess I jinxed myself," Lynch joked. "But, we knew at the end of spring that I was going to move inside from tackle. It's not a big deal to me. I know all three positions, and basically they are alike. Coach Kirlav will play us where we're best suited, but I figured in the long run I'd be there."

Lynch realizes, of course, that he's not going to simply overpower many of his opponents, so he has worked on other areas of his game that he believes will allow him to compete effectively with the steady diet of 300-plus pound centers and guards that he will square off against this year.

"I'm quick off the ball, and I can get into the center quicker," Lynch said of his best weapons. "I've developed my hands a lot, and I think I've made my upper body stronger."

Of those attributes, it may be hand work that ends up being the key to Lynch's success at the nose. Although many observers might first look at strength or size as the key to good defensive line play, WVU line coach Bill Kirelawich emphasizes correct hand positioning and technique as the foundation of successful defensive line play.

"He emphasizes hand positioning and hand play throughout practice," said Lynch. "Everything we do is hands first, then bring the body with you."

Ever the realist, Lynch knows that the Mountaineer defensive line isn't getting much respect. In addition to viewing that as a personal challenge, he also believes that it could be an advantage.

"Other teams might look past us to our linebackers, because we have a great corps of linebackers. But, they're not going to expect our quickness. We can use that, and we have to be fundamentally sound. If we do that, we should be o.k."

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