By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
A year ago, in truth, if there was a weak link in the West Virginia University offense, it was the offensive line.
A lot of things occurred to turn this into a reality, beginning with a season-ending injury to starting senior-to-be left guard Josh Jenkins during the spring game.
This required an offensive line that possessed no depth to use some. It required shuffling players out of position, most notably Jeff Braun, and to rush Quinton Spain, 335 pounds of freshman.
“The problem that happened to us was wearing down in practice; we weren’t wearing down in games,” offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said. “We didn’t have enough quality guys to practice with and to get quality plays off. You don’t wear down in the game; you wear down in practice.”
That problem is changed heading into this season. and one of the strengths figures to be a deep, experienced offensive line … one that will surely go eight deep and probably will go 10 deep with a pair or precocious freshmen earning playing time.
“A guy like Curtis Feigt has come on the last three days. He’s rolling with the ones, so we can move Pat Eger to right guard and at times put Jeff Braun at center,” Bedenbaugh said.
One player — Feigt, the German native — improved dramatically, and it led to three positions having increased depth as the versatility of other players could be utilized.
“I think what we’re doing — and what makes me excited right now — is that we’re developing quality depth where I can move guys around, and the guys up front say to themselves, ‘Oh, I better keep getting better or someone is going to take my spot,’” Bedenbaugh said.
Eger’s job has never really been secure at right tackle.
“Pat Eger had his problems last year, but is a returning starter. He is playing better, and we have the ability to move him down to guard,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Curtis Feigt looks like a different guy; we’d feel much more comfortable putting him in.”
This isn’t a case of Eger having been moved to guard to make room for Feigt.
While it seems odd to hear a veteran coach talk about something so frivolous as being excited about things that go on in camp, Bedenbaugh isn’t just using words without putting thought into it.
What’s happening here this season is a rare occurrence for a coach.
“I was thinking the other night this is probably as excited as I’ve been in a long time. Oh, every year you’re excited to get started. But being out there with these guys and putting up on the board that we can do this and do that Is nice,” he said.
So just what has happened?
In Bedenbaugh’s opinion, the depth is coming from improvement in the players on hand.
“No, (Feigt is) a right tackle,” Bedenbaugh said. “It’s just more reps. We may be working toward that. I didn’t know we could. But right now the first unit goes four plays, then the second unit, with Eger at right guard and Feigt at right tackle and Braun at center, goes four plays.”
Then, behind that, backups have been winning over the coaches’ confidence.
“Kindler, Nick Kindler, is progressing. John Bassler is progressing. These guys are starting to understand what we really want them to do. That’s great for me. They see it, and if they don’t continue to improve they know where they will be,” Bedenbaugh said.
“Spain looks like a different guy; we’d feel much more comfortable putting him in,” Holgorsen said.
“Then Quinton Spain has looked good,” echoed Bedenbaugh. “He has to continue to progress and be tough. He has all the talent in the world, but he has to continue to work. The thing I like is Kindler is pushing him. Nick is doing a heckuva job. Him and Bassler are really helping our freshmen, too.”
That brings us to a pair of freshmen who have muscled their way into the rotation.
Tyler Orlosky (6-foot-4, 290 pounds) and Adam Pankey (6-5, 324) have gone beyond just catching the attention of the coaching staff. They are both working with the second string.
“I’ve never had two freshmen run second string,” Holgorsen said. “The physical nature of these guys is pretty good from a freshman standpoint. A lot of it has to do with the NCAA allowing us to get guys in early and let them work out with the team for two months.”
It’s a new occurrence for Bedenbaugh, too.
“Those two freshmen are doing a heck of a job. Ideally you would like to redshirt every freshman, but if they can help us win, we will play them,” Bedenbaugh said.
Like … but if they prove they can help?
“If you are physically ready — and I think these guys are physically ready — you play,” he said. “Look at that Pankey, he’s 6-5, 322 pounds, maybe 330 by now. He can move, he’s long, plays physical. Now it’s being consistent with your technique,” Bedenbaugh said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.