Lines of Communication

Communication. It's one of the key concepts for any unit that has to work together to achieve a goal. But hidden underneath that simple 13-letter word are a myriad of factors that contribute to a successful result.

For a football offensive line, the first steps in building that rapport is talking with each other to learn what each person is seeing. Next comes making the correct blocking call for the play against the defensive front that's presented. And finally, it's moving to a state where all of that is done with as little verbalization as possible.

One of the linchpins in the communications network is the center, who typically makes the line calls once the huddle is broken. Joey Madsen is set to handle that duty after an apprenticeship with Eric Jobe last season. The duo traded back and forth between center and guard a year ago, partly in deference to Jobe's greater comfort in making calls, but in 2010 it's expected that Madsen will remain at center while Jobe holds down a guard position.

With that in mind, one of Madsen's targets for improvement this spring was greater efficiency in getting calls made.

"One of the goals this spring was to come together and know what everyone else is thinking," said Madsen, who provides an intelligent outlook on the game to go along with an aggressive style. "We don't want to have to talk so much or tell everyone what to do. We want to be able to know all that, and run the plays faster. I definitely think we achieved that goal."

Speaking less might seem to be counterproductive to the goal of achieving better communication, but it's actually the final level in that process. Once players can make reads on their own and know how to adjust, a single call or command can communicate everything each player on the line needs to know in order to block a play successfully.

"It's almost automatic," Madsen said of that process. "You get up and get a play called and there are different blocking schemes. If I don't have to call out everything, and the guy next to me knows what he has to do, it's definitely easier and quicker. You have to bring that all together."

Of course, getting to that level isn't a quick or simple task. It doesn't happen in a few weeks, or even over one full set of practices, such as spring or fall drills. Some groups do pick it up more quickly than others, but no unit achieves that high level as rapidly as coaches or fans would like.

"Last year it was just being young," Madsen said of the biggest problem in the communication area. "We just didn't have the experience and the reps. We were coming in fresh, and we didn't know what to do. You're trying to get the plays down and your head is swimming with that and with the calls -- that's the hardest part."

A year later, and Madsen is happy with where the line is at this point. However, there is almost always the challenge of folding new players into the mix, and although WVU will likely have just one new starter on the offensive line this fall, it also hopes to mix more time for backups into the equation. That means a repeat of the process that Madsen, Josh Jenkins, Don Barclay and Jobe went through.

"I think it's easier if just one guy has to learn it more than three or four guys," Madsen said of the process. "You can throw the one guy in there, and he will learn it faster even if he messes it up. Even if he gets yelled at, he will pick it up."

For now, that "one guy" looks to be Jeff Braun, who spent the spring at right tackle in the spot vacated by Selvish Capers. Matt Timmerman is also battling for that position, but Braun received the vast majority of first team snaps during the spring. He certainly was the recipient of that crash course in learning, and he too noted that communication is the key to his improvement at the spot.

"The new guys get the basic play calls down, and they are always asking questions. Sometimes they get a little nervous," Madsen said of the challenges that younger players face on the offensive line. "We tell them to calm down, that it's not that hard. Everything works together. You don't have to call everything. Just make your call, and everyone will work off that.

"That was my problem when I came in," he recalled. " I thought there were 15 different calls I had to make, but there was just one."

When it all finally clicks, there's a rhythm to the offensive line that makes it even more efficient. When communication is at its peak, the team gets to the line more quickly, adjustments are made with a minimum of talk, and the offense has more time at the line. All of those factors put more pressure on the defense, and simply add to the advantage that the offense is trying to build.

"Coach Mullen brought us over to the side and told us we were getting set up with 25 seconds on the play clock," Madsen said of the action in the Gold-Blue game, which ended spring practice. "I think we improved in that area a lot."


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