MORGANTOWN-Ask any West Virginia University football fan who is their favorite offensive player and they will say quarterback Geno Smith or receivers Tavon Austin or Stedman Bailey. Who can blame them? Just look at the numbers they put up during the Mountaineers' 10-3 season a year ago and their thumping of ACC champion Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
But, ask any of that trio their favorite player wearing the old gold and blue and they are, more than likely, going to say the names Joe Madsen, Jeff Braun, Josh Jenkins, Quinton Spain or Pat Eger.
"Those (the offensive linemen) are the guys that really make our offense go," said Bailey. "We get all of the ink, but, if it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have the success we have had."
Photo by Jim Butta
Former Parkersburg High School standout Josh Jenkins is back in action this year for the West Virginia Mountaineers after being sidelined last season with a knee injury.
And, the five men expected to provide the protection Smith will need when he drops back to pass the football to Austin, Bailey or a number of talented receivers in his arsenal or open the holes for running backs Shawne Alston and Dustin Garrison understand their importance to the team's success.
"We understand what is in front of us," said Jenkins, a Parkersburg native. "We understand the challenges that await us in the Big 12, but we've worked hard all summer to get to this point and we are excited to face those challenges and see what we can accomplish."
Jenkins, the only two-time winner of the Hunt Award as the Mountain State's top offensive lineman, missed the entire 2011 campaign while recovering from knee surgery. He will man the left guard slot he played as a freshman, sophomore and junior while Madsen returns as the team's center. Braun, who took over at left guard when Jenkins went down, returns to the right guard slot he occupied two years ago.
Eger, who started all but one game a year ago, returns at right tackle while Spain has taken over the duties at left tackle.
"As a coach, you are never really truly satisfied," explained offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh. "That is how you coach, though. You can't let kids slide. We are doing a lot of good things. You have to constantly refine because you can always get better.
"It is about finding the little things that can be improved to make us that much better. At this point, I am happy with my group. We have some experience. My guys are playing physical and their whole attitude is different. Everything about these kids is different. They are getting close to the point where we want them, but they have to keep working."
And, they must have depth.
"Backups aren't as clear right now," continued the coach. "Tyler (Orlosky), Adam (Pankey) and Brandon (Jackson) are guys that are currently rolling in there. Spain and Eger will move inside in order to give Curtis (Feigt) and Nick (Kindler) a chance to play. Those two are our No. 6 and No. 7 guys right now.
"(John) Bassler is probably our No. 8, and Braun has the ability to play center."
The added depth has allowed Bedenbaugh to rest his front five more during August camp, a strategy he hopes to continue during the rugged, upcoming Big 12 season.
"The problem that happened to us was wearing down in practice. We weren't wearing down in games. We didn't have enough quality guys to practice with and to get quality plays off.
"You don't wear down in a game, you wear down in practice."
Madsen, Braun and Jenkins are already seeing their names on some preseason lists. Madsen, an All-Big East first team selection, is a second team choice on Phil Steele's Preseason All-Big 12 team while Braun and Jenkins were named to the third team.
"Getting your name on a preseason list is nice, but we (the players) will be remembered for what we do on the field this year," said Jenkins. "We (the o-line) have been working hard and we are excited to see what we can do."