West Virginia Notebook: Right side of offensive line remains unsettled

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- The biggest question mark with the West Virginia team going into preseason camp didn't get any bigger as camp progressed, ending on-field drills with a full-scale scrimmage Saturday.

That said, that question mark -- the right side of the offensive line -- didn't get any smaller, either.

When asked after the scrimmage about his thoughts onthe right side of the offensive line, as it stands now, coach Bill Stewart stopped in his tracks.

He thought a moment -- and then unleashed something that brought laughter.

"I'll run left," he said, a big smile pushing across his face.

That was an easy one; Stewart was quick with a joke -- but what is going on with that side is nothing to laugh about. It appears it needs to drastically improve between now and when West Virginia opens Sept. 4 against Coastal Carolina and keep improving through the season and into Big East Conference play.

During the scrimmage, the known commodities, and returning starters, were in place: Don Barclay started at left tackle, Josh Jenkins at left guard and Joe Madsen at center. But, with the first unit, redshirt freshman Cole Bowers was at right guard and redshirt sophomore Jeff Braun was at right tackle.

There has been apprehension -- largely because of lack of experience -- about both. In addition, senior Eric Jobe, who has played some center in the past, was infused into that right guard position in some first-team spots.

"Cole Bowers and Eric Jobe [along with the players on the left side] give us our top six linemen," Stewart said. "Cole Bowers is good enough to play tackle, even to spell Jeff Braun."

Still, as camp breaks today with West Virginia's Fan Day, the offense looks to be in place from top to bottom, front to back ... except for the right side of the line.

"All [offensive line coach] Dave Johnson is doing is preparing his line for a war in the trenches," Stewart said.

Step to it

With some fans in the stadium watching the scrimmage, all sitting on one side, first-team fullback Ryan Clarke could be seen -- in full pads, helmet, spikes and all -- running up and down the steps on the other side, going up and down Mountaineer Field's Section 102 in the middle of the scrimmage.

"The guy threw the ball after the play," Stewart said. "He got to run 15 sets of stadium steps. One for each yard he was penalized. It is frustration when you do that, and I went and told our football team, 'The only team that can beat you, is you.'"

Just after Clarke threw the ball, Stewart, who has been more outwardly fiery as of late, was seen scolding Clarke and directing him to the steps with a finger point. For punishment, the players often run stairs in practice, but it is rare to see a starter do so at a scrimmage, especially with fans in attendance.

Injury bug

Two starters at linebacker were saddled by previous injuries, impacting their involvement in the scrimmage. Middle linebacker Pat Lazear watched the scrimmage in street clothes, aided by a pair of crutches and a brace on his knee following an injury earlier this week.

Stewart described Lazear as having some tenderness in his knee, but the senior should be back to practice this week.

"Blessed and very lucky," Stewart said of Lazear, in the wake of what could have been a much more severe injury. "We were doing a drill, just helmets and shoulder pads and Robert Sands was tackling someone and [accidentally] leg-whipped Lazear and hit him right just below the knee. It is a bone bruise, it isn't ligaments."

In addition, senior linebacker J.T. Thomas -- who plays the weakside position -- was limited by a neck injury. He played in the scrimmage on a limited basis.

"We wanted to see him in full collision mode," Stewart said of Thomas, who has participated sporadically in full-contact drills throughout camp and now wears additional neck padding that protrudes out of the top of his shirt. "It is a pain thing right now, but in two weeks [for the opening game against Coastal Carolina], hopefully he'll be ready to go, full-go."


Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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