Mike Dent missed spring drills because of labrum surgery, and the absence has put the line behind in cohesiveness and terminology because of its origination from the center spot. Dent, a senior, is responsible for making initial calls, which are then picked up and passed through to the guards and tackles. They guards often need to pass the calls directly to tackles because of stadium noise, and so the ability of Dent to make the correct reads and translate that to teammates is crucial. Any failure of communication results in a lack of flow and coordination in play execution too difficult to consistently overcome.
That's an aspect the rest of the line drilled during the slow pace of spring. Dent watched, but couldn't participate while recovering. The shoulder is at 90 percent, according to him, though movement remains restricted by the medical and training staff as strength and flexibility builds. Dent is not likely to enter camp with the joint fully functioning, but barring injury or aggravation should emerge from drills easily ready for play. He will have one meeting with the staff prior to camp commencement for clearance, expected to be granted without issue. Then the work begins.
"We changed the calls up a little bit with the new staff and because there are so many veterans," Dent said. "We kept some of them the same with tweaks here or there. There's different terminology and different ways to call things now. But if worse comes to worse, you revert to what you know and feel comfortable with."
Which is fine as long as there's no overlap or similar-sounding terms. Even in the open end of Colorado's 53,750-seat, horseshoe-shaped Folsom Stadium – at 5,360 feet the nation's third-highest major collegiate venue behind Wyoming (7,215 feet) and Air Force (6,620) – the decibel levels can make homophones of the most clear of calls. And though West Virginia's front is veteran, it's all-rookie when it comes to Jeff Mullen slang.
"We are trying to get the young guys adjusted, because for us the calls are different," tackle Ryan Stanchek said. "(The pace of learning) differs on the player, how dedicated they are. I'm trying to get the calls, get ready and adjust."
It doesn't help that Stanchek and Dent, along with other juniors and seniors, are playing for their third coach in four-plus years. Rick Trickett helped recruit the duo, then left WVU to take a similar position at Florida State. Former head coach Rich Rodriguez hired Greg Frey from South Florida, and the pair left together for Michigan when Rodriguez bolted. Current head coach Bill Stewart then persuaded Dave Johnson to leave Georgia for his alma mater, leaving some to quip that the staff has gotten increasingly quieter even with verbal tonnage.
And though Stanchek didn't bite on the comment, he did acknowledge the benefits of seeing an array of styles and ways in which to term different sets and alignments. Trickett, who valued technique and relentlessness, taught the terms provided by Rodriguez. He then gave way to Frey, who instructed a mix of offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and Rodriguez. Now, the players must adjust to Johnson and a retooled offense that values a better mix of run and pass.
"We have grown through that process," Stanchek said. "We have benefited from seeing different things, but it's basically teaching the same thing different ways. It helps that we have depth, because even the young guys have stepped up and it is the deepest we have been since I got here."
As long as that depth of Stanchek, Dent, Greg Isdaner, Jake Figner, Selvish Capers, Stephen Maw, John Bradshaw and Eric Jobe can grasp the needed changes by the opener against Villanova on August 30, West Virginia should be primed for arguably its deepest and most skilled front in a decade.