WVU football: Without a hitch, Kindler steps up on offensive line
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A strike to the leg knocked Josh Jenkins out of practice and onto the sideline Friday and sent West Virginia scrambling for a solution.
Quinton Spain, the mammoth left tackle, stepped to his right to replace Jenkins. Nick Kindler, a seldom-used redshirt junior who has dabbled almost solely on special teams, filled Spain's spot.
And then a funny thing happened for the Mountaineers.
"Things went smoothly," offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said. "We didn't miss a beat. When you can do things like that, that's when you're becoming a good offensive line."
More and more now, Bedenbaugh and his players sound impressed by what's happening in preseason camp.
Kindler is very much a part of that and that's a surprise. The 2012 season will be his fourth at WVU.
He's sat out two full seasons, one as a redshirt and one with an injury. He played all 13 games last season, but typically on special teams.
Part of the 2009 recruiting class that included right tackle Pat Eger, backup lineman Cole Bowers and since departed Jordan Weingart and Ryan Spiker, Kindler is nevertheless on hand as a backup to Spain and a reliable option to play with the first team if needed.
"I've definitely battled some adversity, especially getting hurt after my redshirt year," Kindler said. "That was my first spring and I got hurt the first week, so I had to sit out a second year, but I love the game and I love trying to learn and I love trying to see how I develop as a player. That's one of the things that kept me around here during tough times.
"It helps knowing we've got a group of guys here with great camaraderie. We're all pulling for each other. Even if you're not having a great game or even a great season, there are always going to be guys to help you through it."
Far removed from the labrum injury in his left shoulder that cost him the 2010 season and finally familiar with the instructions that changed with the arrival of a new coaching staff last season, Kindler has something now that he's never really had before at WVU.
"Kindler's deal has always been that he's a talented guy, but it's just been confidence with him," Bedenbaugh said. "He understands football, so I don't think that's been his deal. It's confidence with him and he's really starting to gain it now.
"I've been impressed with what he's doing."
The story could be different today and WVU's line might not be as deep or as flexible as it appears to be if not for the circumstances that shaped the 2010 season. Freshmen who redshirt are typically isolated. They don't do much in practice. They work out amongst themselves. Few travel to road games. Kindler did that his first season and was then forced to accept a similar fate a year later after shoulder surgery conspired to again keep him separated from the regulars.
Kindler was thrown a life preserver, though, by former offensive line coach Dave Johnson. He invited Kindler to travel with the team and would talk to the player as if they were both coaches.
Before the game, Johnson and Kindler would review the formations an opposing defense would use and how WVU would be attacked up front. During the game, Johnson would tell Kindler the opponent had under-shifted to overpower the weak side of the offensive line. Kindler would reply that, if he were playing, he would have scooped to the backside and blocked the extra rusher or tag teamed a defensive lineman to spring the running back.
Johnson would occasionally bounce ideas off Kindler or ask him some questions. Every now and then Kindler would huddle with his teammates to hear what was happening or to offer his insight.
"That brought my confidence back up knowing he saw something in me and that I couldn't be isolated again, especially that year," Kindler said. "I wasn't being redshirted developmentally. I was injured and he thought I needed to stay in the game and continue the process of learning things I could learn if I was out there in pads."
Johnson was gone after the 2010 season and replaced by Bedenbaugh, who brought new designs, though nothing that was dramatically different. Kindler watched Don Barclay, the starter at left tackle, and tried to do what he witnessed. Kindler rarely played, not even when WVU was tinkering with the right side and swapping Eger for Curtis Feigt late in the season.
"I just didn't grasp it as well as I wanted to," Kindler said. "I wasn't playing as consistent as I needed to get out on the field or even as consistently as I would have liked. I knew I needed to change my ways to be able to understand things better and get out on the field."
By every indication available through 11 practices, Kindler has succeeded in at least giving himself a chance this season. He's spent a majority of the practice time with the second team, but Bedenbaugh said Kindler has earned the chance to audition at times with the first string.
When Jenkins had to sit last week, Bedenbaugh could have simply made one move and subbed in the second-string left guard. He instead made two moves because he thought it was the line's best option. That option included Kindler, proof that confidence in himself has been matched by the confidence of his coach and teammates.
They like his size, his length and his quickness on the edge almost as much as they like that he's trusting himself as much as they need to trust him.
"Nick Kindler knows this offense," right guard Jeff Braun said. "He knows what we have to do and he's retaining things very easily. He's a very smart player, but with him, it's always been about technique and getting stronger. He's definitely gotten stronger and now he knows what he has to do with his technique."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.