Professor Johnson: Class In Session

He's been called "The Professor" by more than one of his students on the offensive line, and just a few minutes in front of WVU assistant coach Dave Johnson provides all the supporting evidence one needs for that nickname.

Johnson, whose presentation manner closely mirrors that of many of his teaching colleagues in University classrooms, would be right at home in a chemistry or physics lecture hall. Watch him on the field, as he describes, demonstrates and corrects his pupils, and the similarities are evident. The same set of attributes are present in meeting room time and film study, according to the players in his charge, and are even apparent meeting with the media.

Speaking to a group of reporters following the conclusion of WVU's preseason football camp, Johnson stood behind the podium in the team room of the Milan Puskar Center to take questions. Answers came clearly and succinctly, with just enough description added to make points. It's a demeanor that might be a bit at odds with the picture of firebrand coaches administering motivational kicks in the pants, but its one that Johnson has gotten excellent results with at each of his coaching stops.

Tutoring tight ends at Georgia, from 2001-07, Johnson helped put four of his players in the NFL. Drawing on his previous experience as an offensive line player and coach, he has clearly shown his ability to mold players into outstanding blocking units.

So when Johnson addresses the media, the combined weight of his style and accomplishments make attentiveness a must, as was the case as he detailed the current state of his players.

"I think we are progressing, and we are making strides," Johnson said in his overview. "We have great leadership in Ryan Stanchek and Mike Dent and Greg Isdaner. I'm not satisfied with where we are, but we're going in the right direction.

"These are mature guys," he said of his stalwarts up front. "We allow them to make changes at the line of scrimmage. We have different techniques that we can use in different situations, and there is more than one you can use. It's kind of like tools in the tool belt. They get to choose what tool they use in some cases. So that's a very good thing. Everything changes so fast at the line of scrimmage, and having those guys gives you the chance to adjust."

Stanchek, Isdaner, Dent and Jake Figner are set from left tackler to right guard, respectively, but the right tackle starting slot remains in play. Selvish Capers, Donny Barclay and Stephen Maw are all contending for the nod at that position, but the two that don't get the first snaps will still see a lot of action.

"There's not going to be just five guys that get all the reps," Johnson said. "We are trying to decide on the best five, but you want a competitive situation. It's nice to have seven or eight guys that you can trust, and you can mix and match in different combinations. It helps you stay fresh, and give you the flexibility to respond to injury."

In doing so, Johnson is trying to develop players that can swing to multiple positions. Barclay, for instance, can also play left tackle and left guard, while Maw could slide down to guard as well. Backup center Gino Gradkowski, behind Dent and Eric Jobe, could also bump out one position to a guard spot. True freshman Josh Jenkins has also firmly established himself as a contender at guard.

The upshot is that Johnson will have a number of combinations that he can employ when the season gets underway in less than two weeks. It's simply a matter of working the players at each spot, and in varying combinations, to develop the timing and teamwork so necessary to offensive play.

"If one guy goes down, the backup at that position might not be the next best lineman," Johnson said. "So that's why you try to prepare guys at other positions, so you can put your next best lineman in that spot. That's what we've been doing a lot of the past week – moving guys around so that if you do have an emergency, you can put your next best guy in the game.

"Having seven or eight guys is a luxury, and one that I haven't had in some other seasons," he continued. "Being able to rotate guys out helps keep them fresh, but it can also give them a different perspective. Watching the game for a series or so from the sideline can help them see not only their world, but also how things evolve around the perimeter. I think that helps."

The timing and structure of substitutions is still being worked on. Johnson said they could come in different forms.

"There may be some predetermined substitutions, but I will also track the number of snaps a guy is getting. We want to build toward the fourth quarter and have everyone as fresh as they can be, so long as it doesn't hurt you along the way. But I don't want to get to the fourth quarter and only have a guy with five snaps when I went into the game wanting to get him 15 or 20. We have guys leaving after this year, and we can't overlook getting guys experience for next year."

Just like a professor, Johnson has a plan for all contingencies. And when the final exams begin on August 30, his students figure to be well-prepared.

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