MORGANTOWN - As new West Virginia offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh attempts to sift through the parts he has inherited and reconstruct what has been a rather disappointing unit in recent years, he's doing so with two of his most promising pupils standing idly beside him most of the time.
Don Barclay and Jeff Braun, last year's starting tackles, are sitting out the spring after both underwent January shoulder surgery.
Of course, true to a coach's nature during the spring, Bedenbaugh chooses to look at the bright side.
"That's not a bad thing totally,'' Bedenbaugh said. "Obviously you'd like those guys to be there because it is a new offense and [they need to be] getting reps and learning things. But what it does is it allows us to develop other guys. [Barclay and Braun] have played in a lot of big games against a lot of people.''
What Barclay and Braun are missing, though - and what all those younger players who are being allowed more practice time are learning - is actually not all that different. Bedenbaugh prefers to keep much of what his linemen do fairly simple. It's not only easier to teach and retain, but to execute, as well.
"I think by simplifying things it doesn't make [missing spring] so bad,'' Bedenbaugh said. "You don't want any guys to miss practice, but if it's a guy who has actually played and done things it's not as critical. Inside zone [blocking] is inside zone. You may have a different aiming point, you may have different steps, but you're basically blocking the same people. So from that standpoint they're not missing a bunch.''
That's critical in this new West Virginia offense because despite all the variations going on behind the offensive line, Bedenbaugh prefers the tasks of his unit to be as cut and dried as possible. Yes, the line has to prepare for a variety of different looks from the defense, but once that is recognized the assignments need to be clear and simple.
For instance, a running play might be designed to go through the left side of the line, but the runner with the ball might be a big back like Ryan Clarke or Shawne Alston or a small back like Trey Johnson or Daquan Hargrett lined up in the backfield, it could be a slot receiver the size of 5-9, 174-pound Tavon Austin or 6-5, 250-pound Tyler Urban coming in motion or it could be a rare carry by the quarterback.
None of that matters up front, though, because the blocking is still the same.
"We may hand the ball to somebody else, but the O-line is blocking the same thing,'' Bedenbaugh said. "They don't care. They hear a certain call and they're blocking it this way. If a receiver runs the ball, if it's a running back, if it's the A, B, C running back who gets the ball - however we give the ball to the runner, we're blocking it the same way. To the linemen it's the same play, but to the defense it's a different play because somebody different is getting the ball.''
With Barclay and Braun sidelined - they do some of the footwork drills during practice and pay attention, but are more often than not walking or jogging during anything that involves any kind of contact - Bedenbaugh is essentially working with a group of a dozen linemen.