When West Virginia opens fall camp at the end of this week, there will no doubt be tons of focus on depth chart battles in the defensive secondary, along the defensive line and in the offensive backfield.
Save for a battle at the right tackle position, though, it's unlikely that there will be a whole lot of attention paid to the goings on up front on the offensive side of the ball. With no less than seven players on the roster boasting starting experience on the offensive line, new position coach Dave Johnson enters his first fall on the Mountaineer staff with an embarrassment of riches at his disposal.
"It's huge," Johnson said last week. "Those guys know each other and they've developed their own communication. It's big for those guys to come back and work together, play together and be in the meeting rooms together."
"Those guys" include a pair of All-America candidates in tackle Ryan Stanchek and guard Greg Isdaner, as well as standout center Mike Dent and guard Greg Isdaner. Add in potential-laden tackle Selvish Capers – a part-time starter last season – and senior journeyman Stephen Maw – he of the heroic Fiesta Bowl performance against Oklahoma – and it's certainly easy to see just exactly why Johnson is so excited.
If that's not enough, sprinkle in experienced senior John Bradshaw, center Eric Jobe and a pair of promising redshirt freshman in Gino Gradkowski and Donny Barclay, and the evidence leaves little to no doubt that the offensive line is West Virginia's deepest position heading into fall camp.
Add up the returning experience, the promise of the aforementioned youngsters, and incoming five-star recruit Josh Jenkins and it is certainly no wonder as to why the Mountaineer o-line has garnered its fair share of praise in many of the preseason college football publications.
Despite the glowing reviews of his charges, Johnson does not expect overconfidence to be an issue during camp or even the regular season.
"With our group, they're pretty mature," he said. "I don't think their heads will be too blown up by all of that. I think they'll have a workman's mentality, ready to come to work every day and try to improve. I think that they keep it in perspective because they are an older group."
Saturday's opening practice will actually mark the first time that Johnson will get the chance to work with returning starters Isdaner and Dent. Both players sat out spring drills recovering from offseason shoulder surgeries, while elder-statesman Stanchek was limited at times during the spring with a foot injury. With a full deck of cards at his disposal, Johnson is eager to work with his full allotment as fall camp gets underway.
"I think it's a tremendous time to get those guys back," the coach said. "They're healthy, they're ready to go and they've had a great summer. Mike Joseph gave me a great report. They have a good mental frame of mind right now to get started, so we're looking forward to it. We're excited about it."
As the numbers up front would suggest, Johnson cannot at this time foresee a scenario in which Jenkins is thrown into action as a true freshman, save for an unlucky rash of injuries that would leave the ranks depleted.
"It's tough," Johnson said of breaking into the offensive line depth chart as a rookie. "It's demanding, number one, physically and number two mentally. Then, there are just so many intricacies and so many things that you have to coach within each individual position and as a group. Then you get into the assignments and different things that can happen within a certain play and the different fronts and pressures and all those kinds of things that it just makes it very difficult."
For now, though, Johnson isn't concerned with starting lineups, freshman playing time or any of the other issues that will present themselves as the calendar inches closer to the August 30 season opener against the Villanova Wildcats.
Instead, he's eager to lead his alma mater's offensive line through the doldrums of fall camp, starting later this week.
"Hopefully we can come together and have some chemistry and some camaraderie there. With some playing time there, we'll have some guys working together as a unit."