“Geno, Tavon, Stedman, they were all great players. They would make big plays last year. But they’re gone now,” Eger said. “There’s nothing we can do about that. It’s time for younger kids to step up in their spots. We all need to come together more now, to look to our right, look to our left and know we can count on our brother next to us to make the plays, work and be successful. It’s time to move on.”
Perhaps for the press as much as the players. Much of the semiweekly inquiries have been about replacing the big three. Here’s an insight the team already knows: One doesn’t look to replace the players. One looks, Moneyball-style, to replace the production. Eger has grasped the concept, and he – along with a handful of other emerging leaders – are driving development of the new crop of athletes settling into the Air Raid.
“Seeing these younger guys taking the coaching and blossoming on film is amazing,” Eger said. “I wish all those (former) guys the best. But it’s time to move on. … There are plenty of leaders on this team right now. (Quarterback) Paul Millard, who wasn’t vocal at all last year because he was behind Geno Smith, has really stepped up big time as a leader, a leadership role, this winter, this spring. Competition across the board is going great through the spring thus far. Everyone is working together to make each other better right now. We are having fun.”
That, despite Eger being in the midst of a position change to center, the lone spot in the offensive trench which he has not manned in a five-year collegiate career. Combined with a third new line coach in the half decade at WVU in first-year assistant Ron Crook, and Eger’s career has been anything but settled.
“I’m ready to play center,” he said. “Coach (Shannon) Dawson and coach Crook said ‘We’re moving you to center.’ I said ‘ok.’ You have to do whatever you can to make the team better. That’s what I’m trying to do. Honestly, wherever coach Crook says, I’m ready to do what I need to do. Played right tackle, left tackle, right guard, left guard. I’m in my fifth year. Time flies. I’ve played everywhere (else).
“(This is) something I have never played before, even in little league. It’s an adjustment. Snapping was the biggest thing, just getting it down. I got it in the offseason while I was doing it. But as soon as you line-up with someone hitting you in the face, it’s a little different. I am getting better and better each day. Just keep working at it. It’s football. Anything in the trenches I like. You have to make the calls, of course, but when it comes down to it, when the ball is snapped, it’s everyone playing physical. Everyone has to be smart or it doesn’t work.”
Eger, at 6-6 and 300-plus pounds, has exceptional size and strength for the center position, and played 70 or more plays in five games and 60 or more plays in 10 by the end of his sophomore season. As a junior, Eger started seven of 13 games, including the first six, then struggled just as the Mountaineer offense began to do the same after the 5-0 start. Crook said the rising redshirt senior has all the physical and mental tools to be the successful key cog along the front, but that his “snaps are all over” right now.
“I was never used to someone being two inches away from your face as soon as you come off the ball,” Eger said. “I’m getting used to it every day. Paul and Ford (Childress), they help me out. Before and after practice I am trying to take snaps and get everything down. There’s a lot less room for error in the under center snap. The other, there’s about five yards for the ball to go left or right. Every day I gotta keep working on it and getting it down so I can have consistent snaps. I started low, but they are getting better every day. After Pro Day, (former WVU center Joe Madsen) was over at my house and I said ‘Joe, I am having problems with my snaps.’ And he said, ‘Honestly, I don’t know what to tell you. It was just natural for me.’ So he really couldn’t help me out.”
Eger said Crook, who coached at Harvard and Stanford prior to taking the job at West Virginia, didn’t overhaul the line approach, but simply tweaked some techniques like hand placement and footwork, so the adjustment has been a bit faster than it was when former line coach Bill Bedenbaugh took over from Dave Johnson when head coach Dana Holgorsen was hired to replace Bill Stewart.
“He brings a little bit of difference scheme-wise,” Eger said. “He coaches a little different. Between him and Bedenbaugh, they both expect as close to perfection as you can. They both coach being tough players, being hard-headed, nasty players up front. The only real difference is technique-wise. There are ones and twos and nobody has a spot right now. I have (redshirt freshman)Tyler Orlosky behind me right now, but if I take a wrong step, he is telling me. If Quinton (Spain) takes a bad step, one of the other tackles is telling him.
“New coaches come in and we work from there. There’s nothing you can do as a player about it. When someone new comes in, you put your head down and work and learn from them. I am on my third offensive line coach right now. It’s been a blessing and it’s been a bad thing. You can learn something new every time. I can take a little bit from coach Johnson, I can take something from Bedenbaugh and now I’m taking something from coach Crook and trying to put it altogether.”