Dent's Time And Place

The irony isn't lost on Mike Dent. The switches and player insertions that dominated fall camp resembled the early portion of his career, when West Virginia mined a valuable offensive line resource from the defensive leftovers.

A former end, Dent switched to center in 2004, when he saw no varsity action. There was little future stuffing running holes for the now-6-4, 280-pounder - so WVU decided he could create some. Since then, he has worked behind a trio of centers, the latest Dan Mozes, an All-American and the Rimington Award winner last season. Now, Dent will get his first collegiate start in the opener against Western Michigan after spending the last month attempting to mesh with a line awash in newcomers and player changes - something that laid the very foundation for his current career.

Dent's rise to first-team center mainly stemmed from two sides of football ability. The Jeanette, Pa. native's technique and athleticism first impressed, as he showed great hands and footwork and played with the proper pad level. The skills were then matched by Dent's aptitude in learning the spread offense and the many calls associated with it. Add in his intensity on the field versus his laid-back demeanor off it, and Dent had the perfect mix to be both a student of the game and the anointed leader-by-position of an offensive line that is expected to miss Mozes and former guard and All-Big East selection Jeremy Sheffey.

"I feel we have come a long way," Dent said of an offensive line quoted by some players as struggling early in fall practices. "I need to compete and keep getting better. I have a lot to work on. There are a lot of changes and even right now we are still looking for a right guard."

That key slot next to Dent will likely be played by Eric Rodemoyer, a redshirt freshman that has elevated his execution enough to move past former starter John Bradshaw. Bradshaw, who started at left guard in the 2005 games against East Carolina and Maryland, is the backup at both right guard and tackle. His game experience is a major plus, but his technique wasn't as good as that of Rodemoyer, who at 6-4 and 300 pounds is two inches shorter and 10 pounds heavier than Bradshaw. Other camp changes had newcomer Eric Jobe switching from offensive to defense and back again and a major battle for the backup center spot between Donny Barclay and Gino Gradkowski. Both are true freshmen who, because of the coaching staff's comfort with Dent, were able to receive more repetitions at center than they otherwise would.

Right tackle Jake Figner (6-5, 305 lbs., Jr.), left tackle Ryan Stanchek (6-4, 300 lbs., Jr.) and left guard Greg Isdaner (6-4, 315 lbs., Soph.) are the other starters. The latter three have started a combined 46 games, with Stanchek's 21 – all consecutive – leading. That places plenty of experience around Dent, who as center makes the line and play calls. That trickles down to the players on the outside, and the communication is one of the key aspects of play that has Dent mildly tense because of the noise and intensity level expected Saturday in a sold-out, 60,000-plus fan atmosphere at Mountaineer Field in Milan Puskar Stadium.

"If you get too jacked up and lose your poise, you start calling out things you shouldn't," Dent said. "You have to keep under control. Mozes used to do that some. He got better as he went. You have to be calm and take of your responsibilities, your assignments."

Superback Steve Slaton said he hasn't noticed a major drop-off in the play of a line that helped him rush for 1,744 yards and 16 touchdowns and the offense finish with 5,998 yards (3,939 on the ground) and an average of 38.8 points per game with 273 first downs last year.

"I think the coaches have done a real good job of recruiting," Slaton said. "I don't think we will miss a beat. Of course, without guys like Mozes and Sheffey you will see some drop. But they have been doing it all summer, so it will be a good feeling for those guys. I feel real positive. I think they worked all summer to get everything down and fill those spots. I don't think we will have any problems."

Dent has spent a lot of film time discovering how West Virginia wants to attack foes and why it chooses the play sets and formations it does. That's a main change from defense, when the read-and-react portions of the game were more instinctive. A feel for a play here, a read off the block there, and Dent was trying to put one, either in the opposing line or a foe's helmet. Now, the reads are more apparent pre-snap, as afterward the play is about forcing one's hand more than attempting to stop others from doing the same. All the calls and sets took major time to learn, and the gathering of information and its dissemination - in scrimmages and the upcoming game, respectively - was and will be one of the most difficult tasks for the center.

"Communicating with two new guys and working together to get the play calls was the hardest part," Dent said of his fall camp. "We need to take every day and continue to get better. Communication is very important for a center, everybody working together and making the calls, getting crisper with them, making them earlier and getting the calls down earlier. We do know each other and the calls we are making, so we're comfortable with each other now."

The opposition thus far has noticed, with defensive leader and nose guard/tackle Keilen Dykes – he of 31 starts and All-Big East honors – paying homage.

"They are a young group," Dykes said. "Anytime you lose Mozes and Sheffey you lose great talent. But that's the great thing about college football – you have new guys to step in. They will be good. Everybody will have the jitters for the game, even me. But once you get that first hit in, it's all downhill from there."

Tha could hold true for the entire run game, though the line faces a Western Michigan defense that led the nation in sacks per game (3.54), interceptions (24) and broke the Mid-American Conference record for average rushing yards allowed per game in one season (76.1). The Broncos, who return 17 starters overall, allowed an average of just 19.9 points per game and 989 rush yards for the entire season.

"Hey, with Steve and Pat (White) and Owen Schmitt, you are on a block for two or three seconds and they are by you; they make your job a lot easier," Dent said. "Getting out there and getting to compete with new people will be a lot different. I am ready to face someone else. I think everybody on the o-line is ready to face somebody else."

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