Juggling Act?

One could argue that the most consistent position group during Rich Rodriguez's first five years as head coach has been the offensive line. One of the most impressive traits of Mountaineer offensive lineman the past few years has been their versatility.

Last year it was starting left guard Dan Mozes who slid over to the center position. The move was mutually beneficial: redshirt freshman Ryan Stanchek ended up starting and earning freshman all-American honors, while Mozes quickly became one of the nation's best center's as he was named a finalist for the Rimington Trophy as college football's best center.

The 2006 Mountaineer running game could end up being the most explosive in school history. With the three-headed backfield monster of fullback Owen Schmitt, tailback Steve Slaton, and quarterback Patrick White, opposing defensive coordinators will likely be burning the midnight oil trying to figure out a way to stop the Mountaineer rushing attack.

Spearheading the way for those three, of course, is the Mountaineer offensive line. Back is Mozes, who by season's end could be the school's tenth consensus All-American. Veteran right guard Jeremy Sheffey is also back for his senior season after being a starter for much of the past two seasons. Redshirt freshman right tackle Jake Figner has been getting good reviews from coaches and teammates. That leaves two spots: left guard, and left tackle. Stanchek is only a sophomore, but he's already seasoned enough in the system to play either.

That brings the number of offensive linemen up to four. The million dollar question in Mountaineer camp right now is will Stanchek will stay at guard, where he played last season, or will he slide out to left tackle? The former move would leave walk-on senior Damien Crissey at left tackle, where he emerged with the first team during spring drills. The latter move would allow offensive line coach Rick Trickett to insert promising redshirt freshman Greg Isdaner into the lineup at guard, with Stanchek taking over on the outside.

The man in the middle of all this is Stanchek. If you ask him, he's just happy to be on the field. It doesn't matter where he plays.

"I'll play wherever the team needs me to play. I'm comfortable at guard, and even though it's only my second day at tackle I feel comfortable there too," he said after Wednesday's practice, the first in pads for the reigning Big East Champs.

It's not like Stanchek is learning to walk all over again. He played a little bit of tackle at Cincinnati's LaSalle High.

"I played some tackle in high school, but not a lot. It's kind of a whole new ballgame for me, but pretty much all of the plays are the same. I'm still using the same techniques.

"In Coach Trickett's system, you should be able to play all five positions," he continued. "Some of the run blocking the tackle is up instead of being down in a three-point stance, but a lot of it is the same."

Despite having eight starts under his belt, Stanchek is still looking to the veterans for guidance.

"Dan helps a tremendous amount making all the calls and stuff at the line," he said. "Sheffey is just…Sheffey. He's been there for me a lot too and they're both great guys that have helped and still help me out a lot."

Even though there aren't many stats for offensive lineman (outside of the stats Mountaineer coaches keep for grading players) the 'big uglies' take tremendous pride in the success of WVU's running game.

"As an offensive line, we don't have a lot of stats and stuff, but one of our goals is to lead the nation in rushing."

With the versatility, talent, and experience of the o-line, West Virginia could do precisely that.


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