Pat Eger, decked out in a comfortable white v-neck t-shirt, his long blond hair pulled straight back and sporting a goatee that still needs some filling in on the sides, looks more like the weekend surfboard rider rather than someone getting prepared to block some of the best defensive ends and tackles in the country in the Big 12 Conference.
But looks can be very deceiving.
Eger and his West Virginia offensive line mates Josh Jenkins
, Joey Madsen, Jeff Braun
and Quinton Spain are returning in 2012 with a single goal in mind – pave the way for one of the most explosive offenses in the country.
After years of playing catch up and fighting numbers, the Mountaineers finally possess an offensive line with enough depth and experience to be considered one of the team’s strengths. Eger (his Jeff Spicoli looks aside) says the O-line is also getting its hard edge back under its very un-Jeff Spicoli-like coach, Bill Bedenbaugh.
“We’re trying to become one of the nastiest offensive lines in the country,” Eger said.
And that is certainly music to the ears of Mountaineer football fans from Weirton to Welch. Bedenbaugh is starting to develop the toughness and nastiness among his guys that used to be a trademark of West Virginia’s O-line play in the past – something that has probably been lacking a little bit here since ex-Marine Rick Trickett left for Florida State after the 2007 Gator Bowl.
Bedenbaugh wants his players to be technicians for sure, but he never wants his guys’ brains to tie up their feet. Eger explains.
“If you start seeing people blitzing and people walking up you start thinking too much, but you’ve just got to have a level head and stay cool, be comfortable and see everything and as the years go on I’ve got more comfortable with that,” Eger said. “I learned how to read the defenses, the safeties and stuff like that.”
Eger said there are even times when he has used the wrong technique but still managed to execute an effective block. He says the key is to be able to do both.
“I can move somebody out of the hole but I could take a bad step or have bad hand placement, so there is always something I can do to work on to make that better,” he noted.
West Virginia may have five experienced guys returning up front, but with Bedenbaugh, nothing is ever set in stone and Eger only knows that too well.
“No one’s position is ever secure,” he explained. “The ones push the twos and the twos push the ones. If there are threes they push the ones and the twos for their spots and we’ve just got to go out there and fight every day.”
Eger began last season as the team’s regular right tackle and started the first 11 games before being bumped by freshman Quinton Spain in the season finale at USF. But Eger fought back to reclaim his starting spot in the Orange Bowl, where the Mountaineers carved up Clemson 70-33, so Eger knows well the fickle nature of his vocation.
Despite his temporary demotion, Eger got vast experience in 2011, playing 60 or more snaps in 10 games and 70 or more snaps in five, including a season-high 82 plays against Clemson in the Orange Bowl. The junior produced a season-best five knockdown blocks during West Virginia’s most stunning offensive performance in years against the Tigers. Eger, one of the few Thomas Jefferson (Pa.) High products to spurn hometown Pitt to come to WVU, admitted that he got more comfortable as the season wore on.
“After playing the whole year it helped a lot seeing a lot of different types of players - different types of techniques that people use and the different fronts,” he noted. “You get a lot more comfortable seeing it at game speed and you know what to expect.”
Eger also said going up against NFL first-rounder Bruce Irvin and West Virginia’s other talented defensive linemen every day in practice didn’t hurt either.
“Bruce was one of the fastest D-ends I’ve ever gone up against and after a couple of years going against him he got me so much better going against his speed and the powerful explosion that he had,” Eger said. “He got me a lot better with the bull rush, too.”
Now, Eger says the offensive and defensive players help each other out with their technique and frequently offer constructive criticism on how they can improve their games.
“After I do a rep with (defensive tackle) Will Clarke
he will be like, “I just got my hand in there’ and I will be like, ‘Yeah, I know I’ve got to get my punch faster’ so we help each other as a team to get better. If some of the D-ends aren’t doing something I will be like, ‘You’ve got to do this’ or ‘this is what I’m waiting for.’ We teach each other stuff.”
The one common trait that all good offensive lines seem to have is a bond and a togetherness that transcends the football field. Eger says that is starting to happen with this group.
“Pretty much all of us hang around together outside of here,” he admitted. “If we’re not all together on the weekends then we’re going out to eat together at the buffets and all of the ladies are getting mad at us at the buffets because they think all of their food is going to be gone. We do stuff together, and we try to grow together and bond as much as we can.”
As for this year’s offensive line, Eger says there are a couple things he wants the group to be known for.
“We want to be known as nasty, hard-working, tough guys,” he said.
Mountaineer football fans will certainly take that.Check out Antonik's new book The Backyard Brawl: Stories from One of the Weirdest, Wildest, Longest Running, and Most Intense Rivalries in College Football History available in bookstores this fall. A portion of the sales benefit the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. Also, be sure to "Like" the new Backyard Brawl Facebook page and tell us your personal WVU-Pitt story.