By Dave Morrison
New West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen is starting to see the improvement he had hoped to see with his players coming out of fall camp.
Any kind of positive news is good, with No. 24 West Virginia set to open the season at home Sunday at 3:30 p.m. against Marshall.
And it starts up front.
Holgorsen said the starting five on the West Virginia offensive line is just about set, and he is pleased with what he has seen.
The starters are Don Barclay, left tackle; Jeff Braun, left guard; Joe Madsen, center; Tyler Rader, left guard and either Pat Eger or Quinton Spain, left tackle.
“The first team, yes,” Holgorsen said when asked about the offensive line. “Don Barclay has been really consistent. He is a senior, and we are glad we have him. Braun is the most vocal guy, and he has done well. Madsen is one of the best centers I have been around. Rader is an overachiever and a tough guy. The right tackle spot is something that we have talked about a bunch. Eger is still ahead of Spain.”
Which brings us to his caveat about the line.
The backups? Well, Holgorsen isn’t so pleased with them.
“The rest of the guys are just backups,” Holgorsen said. “We would like them to push the first-teamers a little more, but they are what they are.”
Protection for quarterback Geno Smith, a Heisman Trophy candidate, will be key for the Mountaineers this year.
All that started badly when two-year starter Josh Jenkins, a right guard from Parkersburg, was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered in the Gold-Blue Game in April.
And then recently, backup center John Bassler received a stinger and had to miss one of the team’s last orchestrated scrimmages, limiting what the Mountaineers could do.
“We didn’t get as many snaps as I wanted to because we were down to one center,” Holgorsen said.
That has changed now.
“We are OK there,” Holgorsen said. “Bassler was out a week ago from the stinger he had, but he is back. Braun is the starting (left) guard, and he will be the emergency center. We have three guys who can snap it. Bassler was out and (Joe) Madsen had a stinger, but he was fine the next day. We were just down to one during the scrimmage.”
The line will also get help from the backfield with pass protection, though with three true freshmen — Vernard Roberts, Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison — all 5-foot-10 or under, mistakes are anticipated.
“They are getting better,” Holgorsen said. “With young kids, you always worry about that. When they aren’t very big, you really worry about that, but they have had lots of reps and opportunity. All four are picking up their assignment, and they know where to go to. They are battling and playing hard. We are going to know more about them when we see the live stuff.”
Holgorsen said the Mountaineers have even added 20 new players.
“We had a walk-on tryout the other night, and we had about 80 kids (attend),” Holgorsen said. “We added about 10 when school started on Monday, and from the tryout, we added about 10 more. That will help our numbers from a practice standpoint.”
He also mentioned the fullback spot.
“Fullback is a different battle, but it is fun to watch because you have three guys that are battling it out,” Holgorsen said. “A guy that has taken a slight lead at this point is Ryan Clarke, which is good to see.”
— E-mail: demorrison@