Summer A Key For Offensive Line

West Virginia's offensive line was down to just a smattering of players in its final outing, its depth having actually worsened, a seemingly impossible thought at the start of spring drills.

"We don't have enough healthy linemen for two teams," head coach Rich Rodriguez said before the Gold-Blue Game. "There's no way to do it for the spring game. We only had nine linemen practicing today and five of those are walk-ons. That's a position that we're the thinnest at right now. I mean we're really, really thin there and that's hampering everything. This will be the shortest spring scrimmage that we've ever had. We've got to sell our popcorn quick."

The scrimmage did turn out to be 100-plus plays and approximately 90 minutes, more time than thought considering the line, trying to identify a replacement for All-American and Remington Award winner Dan Mozes and All-Big East selection Jeremy Sheffey, was without Frank Carduff (knee) and Greg Isdaner (shoulder) for the entire spring and minus Jake Figner (hernia) and Ryan Stanchek (concussion) for at least two practices. That left just a handful of players – all underclassmen – to fill two full lines to battle the much deeper defense, which can roll in multiple units along the line, at linebacker and at the hybrid safety spots.

"We are really thin right now," Stanchek said. "A lot of guys had surgery in the offseason, but I think everything is coming along well. I think guys are stepping in and doing a great job. (Eric) Rodemoyer is filling in at right guard and (John) Bradshaw is in at left guard for Isdaner, so they have got extra time. As a unit, we are doing well. You look at a guy like Rodemoyer. I think he has a lot of talent. He is really good and really young. He and Selvish Capers. Selvish is another young guy with a lot – a lot – of talent. He is just learning the offensive line right now, but he has great athletic ability, and that athletic ability covers up a lot of mistakes. It gets him out of a lot of things, a lot of situations. That awesome ability, once he gets the line down, he will be a heck of a player."

While that seems true of many of the linemen, it hasn't yet happened in any sort of level across the front. There were times during spring camp when first-year assistant Greg Frey noticed too many breakdowns to continue any drills. He would halt the session and quiz his line on where different players are on certain plays, like the location of the running or fullback, or where the quarterback should be, indicating the need to understand the full play and why the team does what it does rather than just an individual assignment. That's key within a section of the squad that is the most dependent upon full-team execution, teamwork and togetherness. Much of that will start at center, where junior Mike Dent will takeover from Mozes.

"When I first converted over (from defensive end) it was a rough first couple days and a rough couple months," Dent said "I've got to make my calls, then see if the defense has changed at all, done any stunting or anything."

The junior, considered as technically gifted as any player, is still emerging from the shadow of Mozes. The former considers himself a nastier player, one sort of in the mold of Stanchek, who is as hands on, literally, as linemen come and a player that is immediately noticed because of his gritty play.

"I'm a hard-nosed kid and I like to get after people," Dent said. "A lot of people say on the offensive line that you can't get after people and I feel that's where you get after people the most. That is where a lot of the games are won and every day you've got to go out there and fight for your spot and your position."

Dent has mastered most of the calls along the front, and is beginning to lead. The summer will be key in developing continuity and camaraderie along the line, mostly because it will be the first chance all the players have had to be together. While the healthy linemen were practicing, players like Isdaner were walking or jogging the field, which didn't allow for much bonding. The final weeks of school and the grueling summer workouts should allow veterans like Stanchek and players in natural leadership positions like Dent, to begin to guide others.

"I think Mike is stepping up (to that)," Stanchek said. "My biggest thing is lead by example. I am not a big rah-rah guy. It's a solid group of guys and everything is going well right now. We just need to step it up a bit (going into summer)."

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