MORGANTOWN -West Virginia University's offensive line is blamed at times when things misfire, but hardly ever receive any credit.
But Dave Johnson, who coaches those "unsung heroes" up front, believes they're getting better for the remainder of the season. So does Geno Smith, WVU's sophomore quarterback. "Things are going along pretty well and, hopefully, Josh Jenkins will be back for some action," Johnson said before Saturday's game against UNLV. "He really has improved as the starting left guard."
Eric Jobe, the only senior and the most experienced offensive lineman, has returned to right guard after filling in for Jenkins. Jobe, who has 23 starts to his credit, also has played center.
Joe Madsen, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound third-year sophomore, now is a solid fixture at the center position. He is considered the "quarterback" of the forward wall and makes all of the calls. Cole Bowers, a 6-foot-5, 289-pound redshirt freshman, has been sharing time with Jobe at the guard position. Johnson wants the two to get about the same number of reps.
The starting tackles are Don Barclay and Jeff Braun. Barclay is a 6-foot-4, 304-pound junior and Braun is a 6-foot-4, 308-pound redshirt sophomore.
Johnson, who was an outstanding offensive lineman for WVU in the early 1980s, has more dependable depth than he had a year ago. Besides Bowers, senior Matt Timmerman, junior Chad Snodgrass, sophomore John Bassler and redshirt freshman Pat Eger are available as reserves.
Tyler Urban, a junior, and Will Johnson, a senior, spilt time at tight end. Johnson pointed out that stance and footwork will be different, depending on which side a lineman performs. But a mistake by one lineman could mess up the desired continuity.
He praised Jobe, an All-Big East Scholar, as a "smart player, very intelligent. He knows our system and he steps up and battles in all phases." But it is the center (Madsen) who has to set the blocking. "Of course, it's nice to have Eric (Jobe)," Johnson added. "If Joey makes a mistake, Eric certainly will tell him."
The veteran coach said he won't hesitate to use the talent available. That's the reason he gave young players limited game experience last season. Jobe, a CoSida Academic All-Star in the second district and member of the Athletic Director's Academic Honor Roll, logged 852 of a possible 853 plays last year.
Madsen also started all 13 games and saw action in 840 plays. Both standouts had a season-high 80 plays against Auburn. Each also received the Mountaineer Gridiron Gladiator Award in 2009, as selected by the coaching staff.
They are key cogs in an offensive line Johnson thinks will continue to get better as the season progresses.