The Times West Virginian

August 24, 2009

HERTZEL COLUMN - Mountaineers’ O-line far from finished product

By Bob Hertzel

MORGANTOWN — You know how your parents would always tell you as you were scrambling around, gathering up your school books, making sure your hair was combed and rushing to meet the school bus that you had to eat your breakfast?

“Breakfast,” they would say, “is the most important meal of the day.”

And you’d be going, “Aw, Mom,” the toothbrush still in your mouth, your shoes not yet tied. “I’m not hungry. I gotta go.”

Well, what you are about to read is about breakfast and football, for in one way they are very similar.

Breakfast certainly isn’t the most glamorous meal of the day. You know, a cheeseburger for lunch or fried fish and mac and cheese have staying power and pizza or some Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner, that becomes the star meal of the day.

Well, football’s breakfast is the offensive line.

And, if it is, you would probably call it “The Breakfast of Champions” and its best player “Captain Crunch.”

The offensive line isn’t the sexiest aspect of football. It is a group of five behemoths whose job is to grunt and sweat a lot while pushing around three or four defenders who are equally as big, faster and can use their hands.

They are usually an intelligent bunch, these offensive linemen, even if they do lead the world in blood spilled and Advil taken. For protection they are covered in armor and they wear knee braces on both their knees, yet all too often when there is a player down on the field, he is wearing a number in the 50s, 60s or 70s — linemen’s numbers.

It was no secret that when the Mountaineers came to camp the most important chore facing them as they prepared for the 2009 season was to firm up the offensive line, which was supposed to be the biggest strength last year but which disappointed as it lost four of its starters.

It has been written and talked to death since the end of last season, so much so that even as early as the second week of July the players were talking about having had enough of it.

“I stopped listening to (radio talk shows) before spring practice ended and I stopped reading the newspapers long ago,” offensive tackle Matt Timmerman admitted.

If there is a Captain Crunch on this line it is Josh Jenkins, the all-world high schooler out of Parkersburg who was making a name for himself last year until injured. He worked during the offseason to harden his body, losing weight and gaining muscle, and trying to force feed the experience to himself that he missed with last season after his knee gave out.

And Don Barclay, who broke a leg in spring drills, is considered a potential star.

From there, though, offensive line coach Dave Johnson is mixing and matching, trying to find the right people in the right positions while building enough depth for the inevitable injuries that will hit during the year.

It is less a work of art and more a work in progress, so much that there was major shuffling that went on the last week of camp as Joey Madsen was moved into the starting center role while Eric Jobe, who opened camp as the starting center after starting the final five games last year in place of the injured Mike Dent, moved to guard.

Toss Jeff Braun into the mix and you have three men for two spots in the middle, along with Barclay and veteran Selvish Capers.

“I am never happy with depth,” Johnson admitted. “I haven’t been happy with depth in 26 years of coaching. You’ve just got to go with what you can — hopefully find seven or eight guys that you can rotate ’round. I’d love to get seven guys and I’d be ecstatic if I could get eight ready.”

To date, Johnson isn’t there and probably won’t be until a couple of games into the season.

Meanwhile, the line does what it can do. To be honest, Jarrett Brown had to run for his life far too often in Saturday’s scrimmage, and there weren’t a great deal of big holes open to spring long gains, but there was definite progress shown over the first scrimmage.

There is reason to believe that by midseason, this will be a functional offensive line, but it isn’t going to come quickly or easily.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.