By Dave Morrison
Register-Herald Sports Editor
Too many times last year, at the most inopportune times, there would be a lapse on West Virginia’s offensive line.
A missed block, a missed assignment, and down went quarterback Jarrett Brown.
It really wasn’t the line’s fault. At least not completely.
After all, these guys played every down of every game.
But that was then.
And WVU left guard Josh Jenkins likes that this is now.
I’m not going to say there wasn’t any depth last year,” the Parkersburg native said. “No one else played, but I think last year there were a couple players who could have played, but the coaches didn’t think they were ready.”
The line will be a focal point for Mountaineer coaches tonight in the annual Gold-Blue Game at Milan Puskar Stadium. The game will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5.
This year, last year’s never-used backups have stepped up, according to Jenkins, a prep All-American at Parkersburg High School.
“I think everyone on the second team that didn’t play last year is playing tough this year,” Jenkins said. “They’re learning a lot and they’re getting better. I think when fall comes there will be some competition.”
His fellow returning starters on the line agreed.
“Definitely John Kindler, John Bassler, Jeff Braun,” center Joe Madsen said of players who will push for playing time this year. “Braun has a big weight on his shoulders because he has to fill that tackle spot, either him or Matt Timmerman. Those guys are going at it day by day, fighting to make each other better. There’s no real anger with whoever gets it, it’s about working together and whoever is the better man gets it.”
“I think our two’s are getting some good reps in this spring, and they are improving a lot,” right guard Eric Jobe added.
“Fifteen spring practices isn’t really a lot, so we will have to get together over the summer and continue to work on our drills and technique so in fall camp, there isn’t much teaching going on. We want to be ready to roll, and I think we will have eight to 10 guys ready.”
It’s that competition, and the experience gained by four returning starters (starting left tackle Selvish Capers was drafted by the Washington Redskins in last week’s NFL Draft) that is making the line play much better this season.
“We have confidence in that we know what we’re doing, and our communication is better,” Jenkins said. “I think once you get the confidence that you can get the job done, everything comes a lot easier.”
“It’ll be nice to have fresh players come in every now and then,” Madsen added. “We can hit them with more stuff and come off the ball a little harder every play.”
And, in turn, make the line deeper and, as a result, a strength in front of a talented backfield led by Noel Devine.
Stadium parking lots will open at 5 p.m, and gates open at 6 p.m.
There will be a fan festival from 5:30 p.m. in the stadium parking lot (K2) adjacent to the Ronald McDonald House. There will be an “old-timers” game at 7 p.m. followed by the officiated Gold-Blue game about a half-hour later.
Coach Bill Stewart said Coley White will be the quarterback in place of Geno Smith, who injured his foot and saw action only in skeleton drills this spring.
“I hope the team will play with great emotion (tonight),” Stewart said. “They have done that most of the spring. We have had hard hitting practices and live situations, and I anticipate that will continue this Friday night before the Mountaineer faithful.”
The players are excited, too.
“It is a Friday night game underneath the lights in our own home stadium, so hopefully we will get a big turnout,” safety Robert Sands said. “ I hope we show them what our defense has.
“It is even more fun when the fans are there to watch. It gives a little extra motivation to the offense and defense so it will be fun out there.”
‘I think it is more exciting when you have a couple thousand fans in the stands coming out from wherever they are coming from, far or not,” wide receiver Brad Starks added. “They want to see us play, and to have someone in the stands other than the coaches I think it awesome. We want to produce and be productive.”
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