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July 9, 2011

WVU line puts troubles in past

Braun among several to make ’11 watch lists

MORGANTOWN — If there is any one truly questionable aspect of the West Virginia University Mountaineer football team as it enters a new era, it lies in an offensive line, one that failed to distinguish itself a year ago and that didn’t have a chance to be together in the spring as rookie coach Dana Holgorsen put his program in.

While the team was working on the field during spring drills, offensive tackle Don Barclay and guard Jeff Braun were walking laps as they rehabbed from offseason shoulder surgery. A third starter, guard Josh Jenkins, went down with a knee injury at the end of spring, and his availability for the year is questionable.

If anyone holds the key the offensive line it is Barclay, now a grizzled veteran who on Friday was named to the Outland Trophy watch list, the award going to the nation’s best interior lineman at the end of the season.

He joined defenders Bruce Irvin, the sack master, and cornerback Keith Tandy in being recognized on Friday, those two landing on the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top defender.

Barclay prefers to believe the offensive line’s troubles are behind it as the new season approaches, taking the tact that so many others have taken and pointing an accusing finger at the departed offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen.

Without naming him, Barclay felt Mullen’s offense misused the talents that the line had by trying to play a power football game, something that not only made them look bad but also failed to fit the skills of what should have been one of the nation’s great backs in Noel Devine.

“We’ve got our identity back. We’re a spread-out offense now,” Barclay said recently. “We’re going to be good at what we do and I think — like coach said, too — that if you mess up, mess up strong and hit someone and knock them over. Don’t stand there.

“We’re going to hit the outside or inside zone. We don’t have to worry about doing the inside zone and then running power the next play. We’re consistent, and we’re going to be good at what we do.”

What’s more, they figure to be passing on nearly two of every three plays in Holgorsen’s offense, and that should make things more consistent.

“I think now people are going to see what they want to see, spreading out and (playing at) a faster pace. And we’re going to be good at that this year. We have the line to do that,” Barclay said.

The line may wind up actually being able to play power football better than a year ago, even though the offense is more finesse oriented. If 320-pound Quinton Spain moves to right tackle and Braun, himself a tackle, moves in at guard to replace the injured Jenkins, it will be more of a power line than a year ago.

That will add the arsenal of weapons Holgorsen can use, making the likes of Ryan Clarke and Matt Lindamood more effective as ball carriers in short-yardage situations.

Barclay is anxious to get back at it in camp after missing the spring.

“I think the biggest thing was that someone was getting better than me every day at practice. That’s what bothered me,’’ Barclay said. “If someone’s getting better than me it kind of kills me inside. That’s the biggest thing I had to think about. So now I’m just anxious to get out there for camp.’’

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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