Making the Calls

West Virginia's veteran offensive linemen are helping teammates such as Mike Dent and Eric Rodemoyer get acclimated to all the nuances of playing, and starting, for a nationally ranked team, but it goes beyond quick tips on the field and in the film room.

"We are trying to help Dent out with the line calls," right tackle Jake Figner said after a recent practice. "As the center, he has his head between his legs, so we are trying to help him out a little bit. But the center has the final call, because he is the captain up front."

While many are focused on Dent's snapping and blocking abilities, and how those compare to the skills of departed Rimington Award winner Dan Mozes, there are just as many other items that will be as important in determining how well he plays this year. Chief among those will be his ability to make the correct reads and make blocking calls for the entire line – things that occur before he even settles over the ball.

Of course, defensive fronts aren't going to stand still once he gets into his stance over the ball, and will wait until he looks back to find his shotgun snapping target before they begin to shift. That's where the help from veterans such as Figner and Ryan Stanchek comes in. They'll see changes and make verbal calls to help Dent with the final call, which, as noted, he makes due to his position in the center of the line.

"Part of it is just the communication, knowing what each of you is going to do before the ball is snapped," Figner said of the learning process. "You get to the point where you can make a read without having to say anything – you get to the point where you both make the same read and you trust each other to pick it up. Right now we are making all the calls out loud and working to make that run more smoothly."

That process takes a lot of work to bring to maximum efficiency, of course, which makes every repetition in practice an important one. Injuries and classes can reduce those reps to levels that can harm performance early in the season, so the fact that all five starters, as well as key reserves, have been healthy for the preseason so far is a good harbinger of things to come.

In addition to working together, the linemen are also working to improve their individual skills. Figner, as the right tackle, has the job of protecting quarterback Patrick White's blind side, a duty that usually falls to the left tackle. However, White's southpaw delivery means that it's Figner, not Stanchek, who bears that extra pressure. However, Figner, whose even-keel personality is apparent even in a brief interview session, doesn't let that bother him.

"The way our offense is spread out and the way our backfield moves around so much, it doesn't really cross my mind," he said. "With Pat moving around so much back there, I don't really think about it being me protecting his back side.

"Basically Pat is one of those guys who is such a good athlete, such a playmaker, that if there is coverage downfield he might be able to get out of the pocket and avoid a sack and make a play out of it," he continued. "Those plays make us look good, but it's basically him making a play. Obviously we don't want to miss assignments, but he can make us look good [even when we do]."

While White's mobility certainly contributes to a low sack number, the skill of West Virginia's offensive front plays just as big of a role. WVU gave up just 15 sacks in 2006, and a lot of the credit goes to the guys up front. There weren't many ‘look out' blocks thrown last year (the name comes from an offensive lineman yelling "Look Out!" after missing a pass rusher), and Figner is determined to keep it that way.

"I think we just need to jell together. The new guys and the guys that will be new starters just have to gain the trust of the guys that are the returning starters. It's just getting used to the guy next to you. Each player has certain nuances and a certain way of doing things, and it's a matter of getting used to that through fall camp."

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