Redshirt freshman Don Barclay from Seneca Valley High School in Pennsylvania has drawn notice for both his versatility and his aptitude for picking up the techniques being taught by Johnson. He has gotten looks at several different spots on the offensive front, and could be one of the "swing guys" in the lineup that could sub in at more than one position. While he still has a long way to go, and more battles to win once players such as Greg Isdaner, Derek Hayes, Ryan Stanchek, Jon Walko and Mike Dent return to the lineup, he has demonstrated abilities that could allow him to see the field this year, albeit in a reserve role.
"I just want to get better," Barclay said after a recent practice. "I need to develop chemistry with the other linemen and get on the field as quick as I can. I can get better in both run and pass blocking, and I would like to gain some weight, so there are a lot of things that I am working to accomplish this spring."
The chemistry issue is an important one, although Barclay believes that the unity of the linemen helps build that trait.
"[Having guys out] is not that bad," he said when assessing the list of players who have missed all or part of the spring. "We have everyone's back on the line, whether you are a senior or helping out a freshman. Whether I'm beside John Bradshaw or Gino Gradkowski or anyone, it's the same. We all have to have everyone's back."
That attitude is certainly a building block of developing chemistry up front, but there's also the matter of getting used to the movements and thought processes of teammates on the line. When a snap decision is required as a play unfolds, each lineman must make the same read and execute it, otherwise the play is likely to fail. And while West Virginia returns all five offensive line starters from a year ago, they haven't worked together as a unit this spring, and won't have that chance until fall camp. Players vying for backup roles are also missing the chance to work with the starters to see who meshes well in reserve roles, which is also a cause for concern. However, Barclay believes that won't take much fine-tuning in the fall to iron out.
"We're getting repetitions every day, and people just need to practice what [Coach Johnson] is teaching us. All those little things, once we get those down, we will be better."
Perhaps the biggest adjustment Barclay and his linemates have faced is the different style of Johnson, who might seem more at home in a classroom than on a football field.
"His style is a lot like a professor. He teaches you on the spot," Barclay said of Johnson, who is more likely to give out a soft, ‘no-no-no' rather than pitch a fit when a breakdown occurs. "Some of the techniques are kind of different between the way Coach Johnson teaches them and the way coach Frey did. Coach Johnson does more teaching. We go through a lot of technique work every day, and do a lot of individual [drills]. But we're still running the same kind of offense."
The differences extend to film work, where Barclay has noted a sharp increase in time over previous seasons. With on-field work limited to 15 practice sessions, Johnson is on a crash course to impart his system and points of emphasis to the line, and the film room is one place where players can improve on their own. Johnson uses practice film and game cut-ups to review and improve upon fundamentals, and that's the spot where every linemen, whether practicing or not, can improve during the spring.
After playing for more vocal, in-your-face type coaches, another question hovers over this year's line. Will they be motivated, and be able to dig deep in tough fourth quarters, with a coach that's not as likely to deliver a kick in the pants, whether verbal or otherwise? Although Barclay didn't play for one of those coaches, he doesn't think that will be an issue.
"If you can't get motivated to play, that's on you," he said of motivational sources. "Your coach is supposed to teach you, but you have to make yourself ready to play. Coach Johnson will get in your face when the time comes and if it's necessary, but if you can't get motivated to play, you shouldn't be playing. That has to come from the heart."