Brains and Braun

  • April 27, 2010 03:33 PM
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By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
April 27, 2010

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Do you remember last spring when it seemed like converted defensive tackle Jeff Braun was the flavor of the month? He was one of the guys getting a lot of the attention as a possible replacement for Jake Figner at right guard.

  Jeff Braun is back battling for the No. 1 job at right tackle this spring.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo

Braun, then a redshirt freshman, worked with the first group all spring, was a starter for the spring game and went into the fall No. 1 on the depth chart. Then with a snap of a finger, Braun lost his starting job when offensive line coach Dave Johnson chose to rotate Joe Madsen and Eric Jobe at center and guard based on the fronts they were facing.

Meanwhile, Braun was faced with the prospect of some deep soul searching while contemplating what he believed was a great opportunity lost.

“It was tough at first,” Braun admitted of losing his starting job. “You really get on yourself and you felt like you let something slip out of your hands that you’ve wanted your whole life. But it made me grow as a person.”

Braun has always had a contemplative side. His detailed answers to even the simplest of questions reveal introspection not common in most 19 or 20-year-olds. To him, what he went through last year turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“I can look back on it and thank everybody that that happened because it really made me realize that some things don’t always go your way and you’re going to have to keep working; get back up and keep fighting for things,” he said.

College football is a big-boy game. It’s natural selection in its purest form. The strong always have a way of separating themselves from the weak, both mentally and physically.

“You have to have a certain confidence in yourself and what you’re doing out here, but you also need to have a good level of technique and you’ve got to keep building on that,” Braun explained. “Even the NFL guys they mess their technique up sometimes, but for the majority of the game their technique is nearly flawless. From that standpoint, I just needed to get my technique up to the level where it’s consistent.”

For Jeff it begins with his first step. Imagine being a right handed bowler and taking your first step with your right foot, or throwing a baseball right handed by stepping off your right foot. Seems pretty difficult, right? Well that was basically what Braun was trying to work through last year at guard. This year, the move to tackle seems to have cleared some of that up for him.

“Last year it was my first step and I feel that has been improved upon from last year and coach has said a part of that may be because of the tackle position itself,” Braun noted. “Right now it’s learning the plays from the tackle standpoint. I knew the plays from the center-guard positions and with tackle, most of it is the same, but a lot of it is reading cutoffs and zone calls and stuff like that.”

Braun admits there are times when his eyes will sometimes deceive him. What he thinks he’s seeing is actually something different, and that has made him reluctant to call out defensive fronts.

“Earlier in camp I felt like I was talking too much, calling calls that I thought I saw that was not the case,” he said. “That was not what the defense was running so I had to get better at that. I don’t want to be the boy who cried wolf all of the time. I just have to keep working on that and seeing the defense and making sure it’s the right call.”

Braun as much as anyone knows how complicated the game can be.

“Ninety percent of the game is in your head,” he said. “Coach Johnson says it’s between those eight inches, meaning what is between your ears. I really appreciate the mental aspect of the collegiate game. In high school you went out there and you really didn’t think about things. You saw where a guy was and you thought about what they might do. Here you have to do that on every play. You have to know what your guy next to you is doing.”

And that is likely why Johnson has been keeping the ones and twos mostly intact during scrimmages this spring. There has not been a lot of interchanging going on between the first and second groups, which means the more they play together the more instinctively they will play together.

“I think he wants people to get used to working with other people,” Braun said. “I’m not saying right now that I will stay at one and Timmy’s (Matt Timmerman) going to stay at two and the depth chart is going to stay the same because it never is. But he wants to get guys working with each other and to work well. We’re all feeling a little bit more comfortable working together.”

You get a sense of that when you watch the two units out on the field this spring. It’s difficult to ascertain with the naked eye just how flawlessly they are performing their assignments (ask the coaches and they will tell you that there is always plenty of room for improvement), but from simply breaking the huddle to getting lined up to going on the correct cadence, you can see a marked improvement from both groups.

By my count, there have been just three motion penalties and one holding call during the two officiated scrimmages so far this spring, with two of the motion flags being thrown on the second group. The coaches haven’t mentioned it, but Braun certainly has noticed.

“Last spring it seemed like a mess sometimes,” he said. “Even with my play it was a mess at times, but I think it’s just a matter of working with each other for so long. The majority of the guys have worked with each other all fall, and I’ve worked with some of them during the fall, and now during the spring we’re getting a lot more comfortable.

“Just overall the offensive system – we’ve kind of got a feel for what’s going on now,” he added. “Once you get to a certain comfort level those things kind of fade away.”

Perhaps Jeff Braun is finally getting to a certain comfort level at right tackle. More importantly, perhaps some of that newfound comfort will enable the disappointment and the discouragement he endured last season to eventually fade away.