WVU Offensive Line Looks for Depth - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

WVU Offensive Line Looks for Depth

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MORGANTOWN -

West Virginia's offense is returning eight starters from a unit that, especially in the last game of the season, showed that it can move the ball up and down the field.

Almost all of the praise for that offense goes to the playmakers- quarterback Geno Smith, receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, even running back Dustin Garrison, who missed the spring due to an ACL tear he suffered during Orange Bowl practices.

Yet, the reason that Smith will have time to get the ball out to Austin and Bailey, and that Garrison could be able to find room to have games like he did against Bowling Green last season (291 yards), is because of an offensive line that also has a wealth of experience.

The unit does have to replace two starters from last season. Don Barclay started for WVU for three years and is working out with the Green Bay Packers this summer. Tyler Rader also departs after having started 12 games last season.

Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has some capable replacements to fill those spots, though. Most notably, Josh Jenkins will be returning from an injury that kept him out for the entire season last year. Jenkins was a starter for two years before going down in the spring game last season.

So really, it's like returning four starters. With those spots already accounted for, depth is the next concern for the Mountaineers, and so far this summer, the players lower on the depth chart have been impressing the veteran starters.

"Right now, in the summer, I've seen their most improvement," said right guard Jeff Braun. "They understand how we work, what we need to do when we lift, when we run. I'm seeing that with Marquis (Lucas), I'm seeing that with Russell (Haughton-James). They continue to get better, and hopefully in the fall, it will translate to the field."

As a redshirt senior, Braun is going through his fifth summer as a Mountaineer, and this will be his third season as a starter. Joe Madsen and Pat Eger will join Braun as the other two returning starters, and sophomore Quinton Spain, the biggest player of the bunch, will likely start at left tackle.

"It's been like this since I got here," Braun said. "You've got a starting five, and then the backups, you don't really know who you have. I'm used to that. Right now, you've just got to prepare those guys. You've got a lot of new guys in, so the competition's going to heat up."

With the move to the Big XII, the offensive line will have to get used taking more snaps throughout the game. That means that these starters will have to be in great shape by September 1, but it also means that backups could be seeing some playing time, making the battles for these positions even more important.

None of that means that the starters have no work to do, though. Braun, Eger, and Madsen each need to prepare themselves for the step up in competition. Spain will have to get used to his role as a starter, and Jenkins will be coming off a year in which he saw no game action.

These are the guys that will, barring any major injuries, see the most time on the field this season. Where the backups will fall in place is yet to be seen, but this summer has shown some progression for those players, and with two months until opening kickoff, there's still time for improvement.

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