By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
April 20, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Eight is enough. Well, at least that's the number of O-linemen offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen would like to have ready to play this fall. Last year the Mountaineers had only five players the coaches were comfortable using.
||Cole Bowers is one of the young offensive linemen hoping to crack the top eight this fall.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
"You need two centers, three guards and three tackles so you can roll them through," said Mullen. "That would take 20 reps a game off of each kid."
What West Virginia was forced to have its starting offensive line do last year was similar to Chinese water torture. Consider this: Eric Jobe was in on 852 out of a possible 855 plays, Josh Jenkins 853, Joe Madsen 840 and Don Barclay 839. That is simply astounding.
It's a miracle all four were able to get through the season. The reason for the shortage of linemen was because there were gaps in recruiting, coupled with some transfers and early departures.
"When I came here we had five linemen that were seniors and bang, the next year they were gone," said Mullen. "The next two years we have really struggled with depth."
West Virginia tried to take care of its depth problems last year with a five-player offensive line class that covered all five spots. One of those five players is Cabell Midland's Cole Bowers, who has made a successful return to the field after missing most of his freshman season with a shoulder injury.
"In September I tore my labrum and that set me back," Bowers said. "I hit my six-month mark a few weeks ago. I'm feeling healthy right now. So far it's been nothing but good news, no slipping out in my shoulder or anything and I'm feeling good."
Even when Bowers was sidelined last year he made it a point to stay in touch with the team by attending all of the meetings and learning the weekly game plans.
"I was always in there," he said. "I was in a sling and I was just trying to get mental reps."
Because of the time it took to rehabilitate his shoulder, Bowers is only now beginning to regain the strength he had last year when he arrived in Morgantown as the state's No. 1 Division I prospect.
"Certain lifts I was limited to like bench press. I wasn't allowed to bench press all of the way and power clings, but I am starting to be able to do those, too," Bowers said. "It was a long process, but I'm pretty much back."
He is working with the twos at both right guard and right tackle this spring. Offensive line coach Dave Johnson told Cole before the start of spring drills to be prepared to learn several different positions.
"He basically said, 'We are going to be working you around at a bunch of different positions and we'll see where you go,'" Bowers said.
According to Bowers, the tackle and guard positions are two completely different animals.
"With tackle it's just a lot more open and when you're at guard you are making calls with the center," he explained. "You are working with the center a lot more. There are a lot more combo blocks and stuff like that. It's really two completely different positions."
At tackle there also is a lot more space between the blocker and the defender, while the guard position requires the blocker to engage the defender immediately.
"When you are blocking at guard, it's instant - you don't have wait. The ball is snapped and you are pretty much on the guy," Bowers said.
Like all young linemen, Bowers is learning the proper way to use his hands.
"My punches are OK. I've got to work on a lot of things," he admitted. "Nobody is perfect. I'm working on everything."
Coaches will say the most difficult thing for young offensive linemen to do is to take what they learned in the meeting room and apply it to the field. Bowers readily agrees.
"Applying it is the hard part," he said. "You can learn something and know it, but it's the fact of actually going out there and doing it. The older guys do nothing but help. They are awesome."
Bowers is also appreciative of his classmates Pat Eger, Nick Kindler, Ryan Spiker and Jordan Weingart. He says the time they spent on the scout team getting beat on by Chris Neild, Scooter Berry and Julian Miller drew them together, and the competition for playing time this spring has made them even closer.
"All of us are good friends," he said. "We're called the pups. Spike is my roommate and we're all good friends. There is no hostility between us. It's just fun."
So can Cole Bowers become one of those eight players Mullen would like to have ready to go at offensive line this fall? And will it be at right guard or right tackle?
"Whatever I can do," he offered. "Anywhere I can get some playing time and do my best."