Stabilizing Force

"Change" has been the watchword along the offensive line at West Virginia the past two years, but one player has managed to hold on to his starting job through several upheavals in the trenches.

Sophomore guard Dan Mozes has started every game but one in his Mountaineer career, a feat that is something of a rarity under current offensive line coach Rick Trickett. Hit with a crippling injury to offensive tackle Tim Brown prior to last year's opener against Wisconsin, Trickett went through several combinations of linemen before inserting redshirt freshmen Jeremy Hines halfway through the season. Teamed with Mozes and junior Jeff Berk at guard, the trio stabilized the offensive line and helped lead the Mountaineers to seven consecutive wins and a berth in the Gator Bowl.

Therefore, coming into the 2004 season, the line appeared to be a unit of strength. With the return of Brown, the line figured to be at least as good, if not better, than the 2003 edition. However, things didn't turn out quite that way.

It began in preseason, when Hines, due to conditioning issues, lost his starting spot at center. Brown slid down from his tackle spot to assume that position, with Garin Justice filling his vacated spot at tackle. The shuffling didn't stop there either. Following the Virginia Tech loss (where Hines replaced Brown during the second half), sophomore guard Jeremy Sheffey assumed Berk's spot in the starting lineup, with Hines again being relegated to the bench.

Through it all, however, there has been one fixture. Mozes, the stalwart from Washington, Penn., has been in every starting lineup, save one, during his career.

"You know if you have a bad game, the guy behind you is going to step up and you are going to fall back," Mozes said in his direct manner. "And you know that if you lose your spot, there's no guarantee you are going to get it back. I think that makes people play their best every time out."

That's something he has done, at least in the eyes of Trickett. Mozes is a road grader of a lineman, a grinder who physically punishes his opponents, but he's also quick enough to move and make a block on WVU's stretch plays and outside runs. Those skills, along with his undeniable work ethic, have earned him a place of permanence up front. At least, as close to permanence as one can get under the demanding tutelage of Trickett, who has produced 23 all-conference players during his career.

In addition to working and holding on to his job, Mozes also faces, and has faced, the challenge of playing with a number of different teammates. The choreography that goes into producing cohesive line play is something that often takes months, if not years, to build, but Mozes believes that Trickett's practice regimen contributes to a smooth transition when new faces appear in the lineup.

"I don't think it has been more difficult," Mozes said of playing alongside new faces. "During practice, we rep different people at different positions and in different situations. So when it comes together and we get those different people in there, we get used to that person. So, it doesn't matter who is in there. You can have a different guy on your left and a different guy on your right, but they have the same thing to do on the play."

Likewise, it doesn't matter to Mozes which back is running behind the line, even though each has different styles and abilities.

"I don't think it makes any difference who is in there. "We just want them to hit the holes as fast as they can," Mozes said with a smile. "We're just trying to stay on our blocks, so as long as they aren't back there dancing, it's going to be o.k.

The starting lineup of Mike Watson, Sheffey, Brown, Mozes and Justice is again expected to take the field for Saturday's meeting with Rutgers. That will be the third consecutive game with the same starting lineup, and the Mountaineers will be going for their third consecutive win as well. Just like last season, hopes are that the reshuffled line will lead to a season-ending string of victories.

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