MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There’s the new offensive line coach, Ron Crook, transitioning from the I-formation powerball scheme at Stanford to the Air Raid attack at WVU, and there’s Crook’s most pressing priority: Filling three interior spots vacated by seniors who combined for more than 100 career starts.
In the middle of all this uncertainty is fifth-year senior Pat Eger, a tackle-turned-guard who’s now experimenting at center, a position he never played previously.
“Never,” Eger reiterated. “Not in pee-wee or anything.”
OK, so Eger was the long-snapper for four seasons on his high school team in Jefferson Hills, Pa., but as he stated this week, other than having your paws on the football, there’s virtually no fundamental carryover.
Eger’s offseason trial run at center sounded surprising when head coach Dana Holgorsen first referenced it publicly two weeks ago. But the move had been cooking since the days following the Pinstripe Bowl loss, when former offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh introduced the notion to Eger. With four-year starter Joe Madsen departing, and at that point, WVU having only one high school center prospect committed (Tyler Tezeno), the staff felt it was important to build depth at the spot.
“Coach Bedenbaugh said, ‘Pat, I might need you to play center, and we’re going to need you to start taking snaps in the winter 7-on-7 drills,’ Eger said.
“Wherever the coaches say ‘Pat you need to go play’ is where I’ll be — where ever I can better the team. Come fall I might be playing nose guard. Who knows?” — WVU senior lineman Pat Eger
Eger, however, soon underwent postseason ankle surgery, limiting his mobility and slowing progress as the 6-foot-6, 302-pounder sought to grasp his mechanics.
“You’ve got to be able to snap the ball, punch with your off hand and step at the same time,” Eger said. “And you’ve got to do it while Shaq Rowell is drooling in his stance, ready to come off and smack you in the face.
“The steps and the snaps and the pad level were a little bitt iffy the first day, but the goal is don’t make those same mistakes the next day.”
To that end, Eger said daily film sessions with Crook have proven invaluable — much more so than last week’s post-Pro Day hangout with Madsen.
“He was over to the house and I was like, ‘Joey, I’m having trouble with my snaps.’ And he said, ‘Honestly I don’t know what to tell you, It was just natural for me.’ So he really couldn’t help me out.”
The transition has been understandably rocky at times. “Pat is a smart guy,” coach Dana Holgorsen said, “but his snaps are all over the place right now.”
The likelihood of Eger remaining at center next season hinges on the progress of redshirt freshman Tyler Orlosky and, perhaps more importantly, the game-readiness of Stone Underwood, a junior-college transfer who will arrive in August.
If Eger’s simply holding down a spot at center on the two-deep until Underwood arrives, the senior isn’t aware of it.
“Who?” he asked when Underwood’s name was mentioned during an interview Tuesday. “I don’t follow recruiting. Honestly, I don’t know who’s coming in to play what position.
“But in the spring, the 11 or 12 of us (offensive linemen) that we have here, we’re all battling every day to make each other better.”
With Madsen and guards Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins having graduated, the odds are better Eger will be lining up at guard when WVU opens the 2013 season against William & Mary on Aug. 31. He started the first six games at right tackle last season but struggled against the Big 12′s best edge rushers and eventually backed up Braun at right guard.
Eger, who called signing with West Virginia “one of the best decisions of my life,” said his preferences will defer to what’s best for the unit and the offense.
“Wherever the coaches say ‘Pat you need to go play’ is where I’ll be — where ever I can better the team,” he said. “Come fall I might be playing nose guard. Who knows?”