Lines of Communication

West Virginia offensive lineman Greg Isdaner is one of the more articulate players on the Mountaineer football team, so who better to assess the importance of communication in the trenches?

Isdaner, like most denizens of the offensive front, uses the word "jell" to describe the process of molding a cohesive unit from the individuals that make up the line. However, he takes it one step further by analyzing what that simple word means to him, and how the process plays out.

"A lot of it is the non-verbal communication," said Isdaner, who already excels at the verbal side of the equation. "It's being able to know what other guys are going to do without saying anything, or even pointing."

That last is a key item, because identifying the position of a linebacker or another defender by singling him out can provide clues to the blocking scheme, or at least identify one of the focal reads of the play. If, however, the offensive line can all look at the defense and make the same read without having to speak or gesture, then there aren't any clues for the defense to grasp – thus denying them a crucial edge. Without those cues, the offensive line holds a bit more of the element of surprise, and in an arena where a split second decision can mean the difference between a one-yard gain or a ten-yard romp, it's a vital factor.

Even veteran units take time to recapture the levels of communication they enjoyed the previous year, and when there is turnover along the line, the process can be even more drawn out. Isdaner understands that, and cautions against panic if everything isn't perfect from the first snap of the season.

"It always takes us a couple of games into the season to get it down," he explained. "If you look back at the past couple of seasons, it always took three or four games into the season before we hit our peak performance. We are trying to hit that earlier this year, but if we don't, we won't be disappointed, because we realize it takes a while, especially when we are incorporating new players into the line."

The new faces, including Mike Dent, Eric Rodemoyer, John Bradshaw, Selvish Capers and Derek Hayes, have varying levels of experience, although they have worked alongside each other for at least one season. That may have helped a bit in the jelling process, but there is still nothing that can take the place of game action. Practice and scrimmages are used to ingrain blocking schemes and clear the communication pathways, but there is nothing like going against a totally different defensive front in live action. Thus, while camp and preseason practices are important, it's not as if learning ceases once the first kickoff occurs.

"I definitely think you continue to improve all year long," Isdaner said. "Between the first and the second game might be the biggest jump, but you can definitely improve all year. You can improve technique, improving on the schemes, improve on [communication]."

Thus, when West Virginia takes the field against Western Michigan this Saturday, Mountaineer fans won't be seeing the "finished product" up front. While that seems a rather obvious statement, the truth of it is often lost in the excitement of the opening game. Snap judgments can be made, that, while valid at the time, lose their accuracy as the season progresses. And nowhere might the difference in performance between game one and mid-season be more different than on the offensive line.

Isdaner knows this, and while he wants to have his group performing at a high level from the outset, he also realizes that's usually not the case.

"It is obviously hard at first, but we are coming along and have been working hard," he said. "I think we still have work to do. We realize there is a lot of teamwork involved, but I think we will be good for the opener."


Isdaner's leadership, and appreciation for the way in which teamwork makes the Mountaineers go, was clearly evident in this quote from earlier in fall camp. When told that quarterback Patrick White said that the offensive line was the most underappreciated and hardest working group on the team, Isdaner had a ready response.

"I'd throw it right back at him and at Steve Slaton. They make us look good too. We work, but everyone on this team works hard too, and that's why we achieve what we do. [We have success] because we work so hard, especially in the offseason."

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