Bowers In A Battle

Only a week and a half separates the WVU football team from its opener against Coastal Carolina. But even still, assistant coach Dave Johnson is changing things up along the right side of the offensive line, trying to find the right mix of players and positions to improve on last season's performance.

The prevailing thought heading into preseason training camp was that things would remain relatively calm along the front five this season.

With four returning starters (left tackle Don Barclay, left guard Josh Jenkins, center Joey Madsen and right guard Eric Jobe), most seemed to believe Johnson would only try to find a replacement for Selvish Capers at the right tackle spot.

Throughout most of camp, that seemed to be the case. Jeff Braun grabbed the lead at the right tackle spot, and it seemed that would be that.

But in the final days of camp, several shuffles began to happen.

Jobe found himself watching redshirt freshman Cole Bowers taking some reps with the first-team offense at right guard. Then Jobe, who split the center duties with Madsen last year, started to get some snaps for the first time in camp. Bowers started to get some work at right tackle in Braun's stead. At other times, the status quo held, with Jobe at right guard and Braun at right tackle.

Through all of those changes, it's become clear it is a three-man battle to see who will start at the two spots on the right side of the offensive line. That competition is still raging, even as it draws closer to a conclusion.

"It's just everywhere right now," said Bowers, a Cabell Midland alumnus who impressed Johnson throughout fall camp.

"I trust Coach. Coach said by the end of this week, he would definitely have this more set in stone, so we'll see later on."

Bowers said he doesn't have a personal preference between the guard and tackle spots, saying he would play "wherever Coach wants to put me."

The two spots might be directly beside each other along the offensive line, but they require different skill-sets and physical attributes to play at a high level.

"With tackle, you've got to have better feet," Bowers said. "People are quicker. You're going against defensive ends instead of the big nose guards and people like that.

"Guard is closer, and you get it done with more combo blocks and stuff like that. Tackle, I'm more open and everything. For me, it doesn't really matter."

Like almost all offensive linemen, the Ona, W.Va., native took a redshirt as a true freshman. Typically, the goal is to help the big-bodied young men get bigger; to help them be physically prepared for the rigors of taking on college-caliber defensive linemen every play.

But Bowers said he gained just as much in terms of the mental part of the game during the year off, something that has served him well as he has tried to crack the starting lineup.

"I think the difference between what I knew in the playbook my [true] freshman year and what I know now, it's just completely different," he said. "It's really helped.

"Everything is starting to click as far as reading the defense and where I should go and everything like that. There's still a lot of things to work on, technique-wise. I'm still in my redshirt freshman year. But as far as the mental part of the game, knowing what I'm supposed to do, I'm starting to get it down a little bit."

Even still, Bowers does not have a starting job sewn up. With only a few more days until he said Johnson will make a decision, he and his teammates have had some added pressure in practices.

Bowers admitted he has been "antsy" as he tries to impress his position coach. But he said that hasn't adversely effected his performance.

"I was put in with the 1s and I was expected to do the job -- be a good teammate, be trustworthy, be able to do the job," he said. "I feel like I'm doing as good as I can.

"I'm just going to keep on working hard, keep doing what I've got to do to get in the mix and get in the game come Coastal Carolina.

And if the redshirt freshman ultimately gets in the season-opener and somehow forgets some of the lessons he has learned in practice, he has a solid "Plan B" in place.

"The speed of the game is just completely different," Bowers said. "When things go wrong, it's just one of those things where you've got to hit somebody. If you don't know where you're going, just go hit somebody. You can't go wrong if you get your hat on somebody."

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