Brawn of Braun

The second summer of workouts in the Milan Puskar Center has been considerably easier than the first was for one WVU offensive lineman, who looks forward to watching a new crop of freshmen go through the tough transition he endured only one year ago.

Redshirt freshman Jeff Braun is one of the many younger players who will be expected to block consistently for quarterback Jarrett Brown. With youth, of course, comes growing pains -- a concept Braun is all too familiar with.

"It was a rough year for me last summer," he said. "All of the old guys were watching me puke out there."

"In high school I was the biggest guy on my team or in my county. You come here and it's square one."

With true freshmen arriving on campus over the course of the summer, Braun will get the opportunity to watch "fresh meat", so to speak, go through many of the same things he dealt with last year.

"I'm kind of excited for them to get here so I can watch how they do out there," the Westminster, Md., native said. "They're going to get used to it. It's a whole new process."

"We've just got to help them along, especially the young offensive linemen. Offensive line in high school and here is a lot different, so we've got to build them up. We need them sometimes. We've got a young line now and we might need some backups or whatever, so we've got to build everybody that comes in."

Indeed, there's a youth movement this season along the Mountaineer offensive line.

Only two of the presumptive starters for the fall are beyond their sophomore year of eligibility, and senior Selvish Capers is the only lineman who has started more than five games in his West Virginia career.

Braun is one of the youngsters who will be expected to make a significant contribution, as he figures to start at right guard. With that duty comes both a sense of excitement and a sense of responsibility to improve quickly.

"Even from the first practice of (this) spring to the (Gold-Blue) spring game, I came far," Braun said. "I'm just hoping to build on that. I never take a day off. I've got to improve on something every day, even if it's something small. That's how you've got to go about things."

Even so, the redshirt freshman admits that he "messed up a lot in spring." Those sort of mistakes by the many young players expected to start along the line have led some to point to it as the weakest position on the Mountaineer roster.

That's a contention Braun disagrees with.

"You kind of take it personally, but you've just got to work," he said. "We're a team, and you're only as strong as your weakest link."

"The best thing we can do is go and work at it. If we get to fall camp and know we didn't work, then we can feel bad about it. But the way we're working now, I feel that's not going to happen. The whole team, all-around, is going to be pretty strong."

One reason the offensive line may have been perceived as weak was the fact that it had to face the WVU defense in practice every day in the spring, a unit that is considered the team's strength and is expected to compete at an elite level this season.

Braun hopes that experience will serve he and his line mates well.

"Our first team defense, they're studs -- every one of them," Braun said. "That makes you better."

"I mean, during practice, they have about five linebackers it seems like everywhere. You're trying to look around and you see one, but the next thing you know you've got another one coming. That's when it comes down to coaching. We've got to use what we're taught."

On the flip side of that, the offensive line likely will not block against a conventional four-man front until the start of the season. West Virginia's unique 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense presents unique challenges that the offense has to address in practice, but those concerns rarely translate to things that must be done in games.

"I'm a little worried about that actually," Braun said. "I've been thinking about that this summer. I'm so used to blocking that odd front right now, I've got to remember how to block an even front. All of our plays in the spring, we were blocking against an odd front. So the plays have to be a bit different, but once we get that down I figure we'll be alright."

"A lot of it, our coach (Dave Johnson) says, ‘You only see this in a 3-3 stack. This situation really won't come up in a four front.' But I feel like, if we can block that, what can't we block? That's what's positive about going against our defense every practice."

With the prospect of on-field work still a couple of months away, Braun and his fellow Mountaineer teammates have had to focus on what they can do this summer -- get stronger, faster and better conditioned overall for a rigorous season.

While he still has work to do, Braun is pleased with how far he has come in the weight room since arriving on campus.

"Last year, everything was new," the 6-4, 307-pounder said. "I was kind of timid and scared coming in. During the winter, I got more comfortable with (strength and conditioning) Coach (Mike) Joseph's techniques and what to do."

"I took it more seriously and got my diet down. Once I got my weight down, everything else is coming easier. The biggest difference was getting in shape. It took about a year, but I'm feeling really good right now."

With that concern behind him, Braun and his fellow offensive linemen can focus more on technique work that could help them as blockers when fall camp comes around. Despite the lack of face time with coaches in the summer, players can work on fundamentals themselves.

"We work on footwork a lot, with the first initial step," Braun said. "Another thing we can work on is our punches for pass setting. We've just got to get stronger with our punch and more accurate with it. I know in the spring I was having trouble landing my punches in the right place and stuff like that. We'll work on that this summer."

"For offensive line, there's a lot of little technique stuff that it's good to work on in summer because when camp comes, you need to know it. It's more refining than learning. We're not learning anything new, we're just getting better at what we already know."


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