“The mindset this year is Mohawk,” he said, pointing to the top of his head. “It means getting down to the nitty gritty and fighting until you die.”
That’s the mentality for this year’s offensive line as it tries to improve. And, from all accounts this spring, the positive steps the unit took during the Orange Bowl vs. Clemson has continued to the spring.
“I feel like we haven’t stopped playing football since the bowl game. We had about four days off before we were in here lifting and going back at it,” Madsen said. “The sky’s the limit with us.”
It doesn’t take but a glance at West Virginia’s preseason depth chart to see a difference along the offensive line.
For the first time since maybe the Rich Rodriguez era, the Mountaineers have a veteran offensive line. While WVU loses perhaps its best lineman, tackle Don Barclay, it returns four starters and another, right guard Josh Jenkins, who started in 2010 before being injured in the 2011 Spring Game and had to miss the entire year to recover from knee surgery.
“This group is hungry to prove that they’re pretty good, prove that they’re going to win games and prove that they’re hungry,” said offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. “So far, they’re doing a good job, but they just can’t get complacent.”
Bedenbaugh has a group that should be one of the most veteran offensive lines in the country when it comes down to it. Redshirts seniors Jeff Braun, Jenkins and Madsen have combined to started a combined 88 times. Redshirt junior Pat Eger has started 12 games, as well. Projected starter, redshirt sophomore Quinton Spain, has also started one game. So, between the projected starting five players on the line, the Mountaineers have 101 starts.
“This is a tough game, and you have to love playing football – and those top five guys love to play football,” Bedenbaugh said. “When you do that and you want to be great, you’re going to do whatever it takes.”
The last line that could be considered great by many at WVU back in 2008 that featured Selvish Capers, Mike Dent, Jake Figner, Greg Isdaner and Ryan Stanchek had a combined 103 starts prior to that season. No starting line has had more than that since – and the most before this season was just 65 last year.
“We’re all used to playing with each other already … For us to all have experience in something, it’s going to be really good for us,” Braun said. “We’re on the same page now, and you really don’t have to say much. I can tell what the guy next to me is going to do.”
Coaches and players have been impressed with Jenkins this spring despite playing his first football since back in spring practice last year.
“I don’t know if he’s ready to prove he’s 100 percent, because I don’t know if he is, but I think he understands what he lost,” Bedenbaugh said. “And if you love football like he does and when you have to sit out a year and watch your team have success, he understands how important football is to him.”
In the Big 12, WVU expects to see larger defensive lines with more NFL talent. WVU will try to counteract that by being tougher and more technically sound.
“You have to be physical and have good technique. If you do all that stuff, the other stuff will come along. You’ll be more confident and that will make you a better football player,” Braun said.
What there isn’t with this offensive line, which is nothing new for the Mountaineers over the last handful of seasons, is depth. Outside of the starting five, there are only two or three players with experience.
Redshirt junior Curtis Feight seems to be the most ready to provide depth. He saw action in six games in 2011 including earning a start vs. South Florida last year. He and redshirt senior John Bassler are definitely going to be counted on this year.
Outside of that, it is the hope that redshirt freshmen Marquis Lucas, Brandon Jackson and Russell Haughton-James will make some improvements this spring, summer and throughout fall camp to provide the depth.
“We’ve had some good lines throughout the years at Texas Tech and Arizona, and this one stacks up pretty well,” Bedenbaugh said.
How good do you think this year’s offensive line will be? Let us kow on the Silver Lot or on Twitter (@BlueGoldNews).