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Center of Attention

By John Antonik for
August 22, 2009

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Talk about getting things twisted. Last spring, the more Joey Madsen used his head the more difficult things became for him. So this fall Madsen has decided not to let his brain tie up his feet.

  Redshirt freshman Joey Madsen is now working with the ones at center.
All-Pro Photgraphy/Dale Sparks

"When I stopped thinking it just came together," he said Thursday morning.

Take that, all you deep thinkers out there.

Madsen was moved from guard to center last spring. Earlier this week he was moved up to the first team. Now, Madsen is hoping that's all the moving he's going to do.

Center Eric Jobe, who started the last five games of 2008, is at right guard, while right guard Jeff Braun is working with the twos at center. Offensive line coach Dave Johnson is taking the old three-to-find-two approach.

"We're trying to find out from those three who is going to fill those two spots," said Johnson, now in his second year with the Mountaineers.

Just because Madsen has quit over-analyzing things, don’t get the impression that he is just out there running around like a wild man.

"I was screwing things up in the beginning because I was over thinking and I would just roll one back there," Madsen said. "They would say, 'What are you doing?' I would look back and say, 'That was a bad snap, wasn't it?'"

So far Madsen has been getting fewer 'what-are-you-doings?' and more 'keep-doing-what-you're-doings' from the coaches. Johnson wouldn't reveal how his young center graded out after Wednesday's scrimmage, but he did say that Madsen was still his center.

Take that as a vote of confidence. Anyone who knows Johnson will tell you that he isn't a mark my words or read my lips kind of guy. What Johnson is looking for are seven or eight players that he can depend on this year.

"I am never happy with depth," Johnson said. "I haven't been happy with depth in 26 years of coaching. You've just got to go with what you can and hopefully find seven or eight guys that you can rotate around. I'd love to get seven guys, and I would be ecstatic if I could get eight ready."

How many does he have ready right now?

"Four," Johnson said without pausing. "So we're minus-one right now."

Perhaps the continued development of Joey Madsen will give Johnson one less thing to worry about. The redshirt freshman brings toughness and enthusiasm to one of the most difficult positions to play in the spread offense. A spread center has got to be smart, he's got to be athletic and he's got to be tough enough to handle the three-hour beating that he's going to take from ill-tempered 300-pound nose guards.

The faint of heart need not apply.

"I come from a town where you're tough off the ball," Madsen said of his eastern Ohio upbringing. "You just hit people in the face and you don't stop running your feet. With Jobe now at right guard, we're going to get the push that we need to move those big guys up front."

Many O-line coaches take their most physically gifted linemen and put them at center. That's what Rick Trickett did with Dan Mozes in 2005. Years before that, Mike Jacobs did the same with Mike Compton. Maybe something similar will be said about Madsen one day. Time will tell.

One thing is for certain, if you are weak at center then the chances are good that you are also going to have a weak offense.

Go back in time and reference any successful West Virginia season - the 1988 team had Kevin Koken at center, Dan Mozes started on the 2006 Sugar Bowl team, Billy Legg snapped for three straight bowl teams from 1982-84, Dave Johnson was the center on the 1981 Peach Bowl team, Al Gluchowski was Bobby Bowden's center on the 1975 Peach Bowl team, Dickie Roberts was the starting center on the 1969 Peach Bowl team … so on and so forth.

Keep in mind, every play begins with the football in the center's hand.

"It's very difficult because you have to call the defenses," Madsen said. "It may be stacked one time and then I put my head between my legs and then I look up again and they're just all over the place. Then you don’t know what it is."

Jobe certainly knows that feeling. He was wearing a pretty big grin on his face Thursday morning when he was asked to describe the difference between playing center and right guard in the spread offense. That was after he gave the look you would likely get from your wife when you told her that you were taking a pass on the winter vacation to Maui to take the family to Buffalo.

"I'm used to having a nose guard right over my face so it was nice to be able to go up to the line and be able to see what the linebackers were doing," Jobe said. "I kind of feel re-energized."

Madsen wasn't sure what to think when he got the news that he was being called up to the front.

"I never thought I could handle the responsibility of having the ball in my hands on every play," he said. "I got in there and I threw a few back and I'm thinking, 'If I mess this up I'm going to get kicked out.' So I just practiced hard every day and it is starting to come together for me. Now this is where I'm at."

It's premature to start drawing any permanent conclusions, however. According to Johnson, the ink on the paper is not yet dry.

"You want to make sure," he said. "In our (Saturday) scrimmage you are going to see Jeff Braun at center taking snaps with the twos and you are going to see Jobe at right guard (with the ones).

"Those guys are fighting to get on the field. I'm trying to find the best five. We're seeing who the combinations are and who is going to step forward," Johnson said.

Perhaps Joey Madsen is starting to do that ... just a little food for thought for all you deep thinkers out there.

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