Bedenbaugh to Gauge O-line Talent

  • By John Antonik
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  • February 10, 2011 02:10 PM
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – New West Virginia University offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh is not against moving guys around in the spring to see where they fit best. Unfortunately, this spring he’s not going to be able to do a lot of that because he will only have eight scholarship and 11 total guys to work with.

Starting tackles Don Barclay and Jeff Braun are recovering from offseason shoulder surgeries and will not be available, leaving Bedenbaugh barely enough guys to assemble two full units when the team hits the practice field in late March.

“That’s going to limit some of the moving around and things that I would like to tinker with this spring,” Bedenbaugh said last Thursday. “I’ve talked to those guys and they’re going to learn some different positions and understand that there may be some movement where guys play once two-a-days start in August.”

Bedenbaugh, hired from Arizona last month, has had very little time to evaluate the players in the program right now because he was busy finishing up recruiting. In less than a month, the coaching staff was able to add three pretty athletic players to next year’s O-line with all of them standing 6-4 or taller. Bedenbaugh said he was pretty pleased with what they were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time.

“The kid from Miami (Marquis Lucas) is different,” Bedenbaugh said. “He can play tackle – he’s a 6-4 kid but he’s really, really athletic and has long arms. You don’t find that a lot. That’s why your tackles are generally taller guys because they have longer arms. I tell people all the time my ideal offensive lineman is a 6-3 guy with 6-8 arms. You don’t find (taller O-linemen) inside because you get more of the bigger, physical bull-rush type guys at the D-tackles and you want more guys that have mass.”

So far Bedenbaugh says he has a good initial impression of the players he will be working with this spring.

“We had our first meeting and we kind of started to implement some things and I had some other kids come back and come to my office and sit down and say, ‘OK, why are we doing this?’ which is great,” he said. “Those guys need to think, too. It’s like I told them, ‘We’re in this together.’ The best offensive lines that I had were guys who went in there and watched film together, talked about what they were doing and then came to me and said, hey, can we do it this way? Can we call it this? This is what makes sense to me.’

“That’s fine because I can coach it any way,” Bedenbaugh said. “Those are the guys that have to go out there and be on the field and play.”

Bedenbaugh will watch some of last year’s tape but only as a gauge to determine how they will fit in offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s new system.

“I’m going to watch it just to see what is this guy’s athleticism and where can he fit in the best? Is he a tackle? Is he a guard? Is he a center? I don’t want any preconceived notions of what these guys can do because I really don’t know what they’ve been taught,” he said. “Everybody has different philosophies and techniques and things like that.”

When Bedenbaugh coached with Holgorsen at Texas Tech, they used slightly wider offensive line splits to accommodate coach Mike Leach’s pass-centric offense. That required more athletic offensive linemen capable of blocking in space. Since leaving Texas Tech, both coaches have emphasized the running game a lot more – Holgorsen at Oklahoma State and Bedenbaugh at Arizona.

“Really what you do is you’re spreading the defense out,” explained Bedenbaugh of the philosophy behind using wider splits. “We tightened them down a little bit, Coach Holgorsen at Oklahoma State and me at Arizona. The one thing at Texas Tech was we were going to throw the ball all the time and our run game wasn’t hugely important – and the run game that we did was more of a man scheme. Now, we have more of a zone scheme so you have to tighten your splits some to be able to combo block and things like that.”

Bedenbaugh elaborated.

“Really the basic premise of it is the wider you get … if they’re going to widen out then it takes them further away from the quarterback,” he said. “Now some guys can’t handle that and you’ve got to do what they can handle. So if you’ve got to tighten them down then you have to tighten them down. It gives the quarterback throwing lanes, it gets the linemen closer to screens and it opens up running lanes if you’re a man blocking scheme.”

Bedenbaugh said the staff will experiment with the line splits this spring to see what the players can and can’t handle.

“You’ve got to put your guys in a position to be successful,” he said. “I mean you can’t ask them to do something that they can’t do.”

In addition to Barclay and Braun being out, starting quarterback Geno Smith will also miss a portion of the spring while he recovers from off-season foot surgery. Because the quarterback is such an important part of the entire protection scheme, Bedenbaugh said getting Smith out there with the O-line will be extremely important.

“Coach Holgorsen does such a great job and obviously we’d like to have him out there all spring,” Bedenbaugh said. “I think he’s going to go through some of it but, yes, it’s a huge part. Giving up sacks is a team thing. Obviously it starts with the O-line and everybody understands that, but if they bring six guys and you’ve got five guys of protection, well, you can’t pick that up.

“They can always outman you or they can always bring more to a side or something like that, so it’s huge for (Geno) to get out there and see it,” Bedenbaugh said. “Plus, just to be able to work the pocket … we may set a little different than what they did before in how the pocket sets up and things like that. The little bit I’ve seen of him the guy has good escapability and good movement in the pocket. He’s been out there and he’s played and obviously he hasn’t played in this system, but he’s already been studying film and things like that will help him out.”

For a veteran player such as Don Barclay, Bedenbaugh becomes his third O-line coach in five seasons. While unusual, Bedenbaugh said he actually had four different coaches during his college career at Iowa Wesleyan.

“I had one every year, which is kind of a rare deal,” he said. “It’s good for him. It’s good for a kid who wants to play at the next level to get exposed to different types of coaching. It was great for me. It wasn’t great when I was playing but it was great for me going into coaching being exposed to different coaching methods and say, hey, I like this and I don’t like this; this works for me and this doesn’t work for me. It’s tough for the kid but from everything I’ve been told he’s a good kid, a tough kid and a blue-collar kid who wants to win and be good.”

The beauty of Holgorsen’s offensive system, according to Bedenbaugh, is the repetitive nature of the practices.

“You get in a bunch of reps,” he said. “We don’t do a bunch of different things. We don’t have a bunch of different calls on the offensive line. It’s about getting great technique and getting great at fundamentals – doing them the best that you can and repping them over and over and over again … seeing a front and a blitz so many times that when you go out there it’s second nature to pick it up. That’s what it’s about: trying to keep it as simple as you can and repping over and over.”

Bedenbaugh said the terminology is also very simple for players to understand. Again, it’s about playing fast and knowing what you’re doing.

“You’ve got to be able to go out there and play,” he said. “If you have 90 different calls for one play, heck, I’ve coached for a long time and that stuff is hard to do. We’ve got to put these guys in positions to be successful. That means keeping it simple and letting them play and become players is the best way to do that.”