WVU looks for depth on the offensive line
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia is far from setting its starting offensive line, but offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh sounded more worried about the second five.
"We need to have some more competition from our backup guys," Bedenbaugh said. "That's what we need right now, so those guys that are in theory on the first line don't relax. We've got to have some guys behind pushing and motivating them to get better."
Head coach Dana Holgorsen was less diplomatic.
The backups, he said, "don't have any interest whatsoever in pulling ahead of the five guys in front."
West Virginia's offensive line remains a work in progress and an integral part of Holgorsen's up-tempo offense. It needs to keep quarterback Geno Smith upright for the Mountaineers to have success.
That wasn't always the case last season, as the Mountaineers allowed 27 sacks in 13 games — ranking 71st nationally.
The Mountaineers return experience up front, but the key is developing depth, Bedenbaugh said.
"I feel comfortable with a few guys right now," he said. "We probably need to get three or four more to come along and develop for us to be where we need to be."
Three starters return: Fifth-year senior Don Barclay, a Seneca Valley product, projects as the starter at left tackle; redshirt junior Jeff Braun moves from right tackle to left guard; and Joe Madsen should start at center.
Combined, they have played 88 career games and started 65 games. They started every regular-season game for West Virginia last season, and only Madsen missed the Champs Sports Bowl because he was ineligible.
Senior Josh Jenkins would have been a fourth returning starter, but a knee injury in the spring game ended his season.
Even with their experience, Barclay and Braun are playing catch-up. Both had shoulder injuries that kept them out of spring practice.
"For me and Donny, we've been there. We know what to expect, and we know steps we need to take," Braun said.
There's less experience on the right side. Right guard Tyler Rader is a redshirt senior but has played in only three career games. There's competition at right tackle among redshirt freshman Quinton Spain and redshirt sophomores Pat Eger, a Thomas Jefferson graduate, and Curtis Feight. Spain entered camp as the No. 1 but has no game experience.
While the Mountaineers have used the same starting five in camp, the offensive line generally takes the longest time to develop, and the coaches want things settled quickly.
"We have to figure it out soon," Barclay said. "As soon as we figure it out, we can start jelling, running plays smooth and everyone getting used to everyone beside him."
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