By Greg Talkington
MORGANTOWN -- Heading into this Saturday's game at East Carolina, West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez believes his Mountaineers must improve in all phases of play.
But the one phase where he feels the most improvement is needed is in the offensive line.
Ironically, it was the play of his veteran linemen that concerned him more than that of his younger linemen against Wisconsin.
"The offensive line played hard and didn't have many mental breakdowns," Rodriguez said, during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "I thought (redshirt freshman) Dan Mozes had real solid game and that (sophomore) Garin Justice held his own out there.
"(Junior) Jeff Berk did OK, but (seniors) Geoff Lewis and Ben Timmons struggled some at times."
Lewis, a 6-4, 310-pound right guard, will be challenged by former Grafton standout Travis Garrett, a 6-5, 300-pound sophomore.
"Travis will be in there competing with Geoff this week," Rodriguez said. "Travis has really been coming on the past few weeks."
Junior college transfer Mike Watson (6-5, 305), who quit the team for a few days during fall camp, is also getting more repetitions in practice behind Berk. The versatile Berk can play guard or center, giving offensive line coach Rick Trickett more options.
"We're trying to accelerate his development some," Rodriguez said. "Watson is a big, talented guy, but he's still in the learning process.
"We think he can help us once he learns things."
Justice, a 6-7, 305-pound native of Gilbert, will start once again this week at left tackle, which was vacated when senior Tim Brown went down with an injury. Former University star Josh Stewart (6-5, 300, soph.) will split time with him.
n WILL SEEK MEDICAL REDSHIRT: Rodriguez said he plans to petition the NCAA for a sixth year for Brown.
"He wants it, his parents want it and we want it," Rodriguez said. "He's still in bed right now from it.
"I think this is an exceptional case and should go under the hardship rule."
Brown ruptured his Achilles tendon during a pass blocking drill last Wednesday. The 6-5, 300-pound Brown would have been a third-year starter on the line for the Mountaineers.
"He wanted to come to our game against Wisconsin and the doctors wouldn't let him," Rodriguez said. "Right now, he has to stay down with his foot elevated."
Brown had surgery on the foot last Thursday.
n INJURY UPDATE: Several Mountaineers who missed parts of the Wisconsin game are expected to play against ECU.
Rodriguez said quarterback Rasheed Marshall, running back Quincy Wilson, and linebacker Grant Wiley would all play unless something happens during practices this week.
Only safety Jahmile Addae is questionable.
"He's pretty much day-to-day," Rodriguez said. "The injury he has in his shoulder wasn't caused by hitting, but by diving and stretching something in his shoulder out a little bit.
"It's more irritating than anything. We babied it through camp and he did OK in the game. If he's out there, we know he'll hit, because that's his nature."
Sophomore Anthony Mims (6-0, 180) would start in his place.
"Mims did a good job while he was in there," Rodriguez said. "My only complaint is that he probably could've been a little more physical."
WVU NOTES: The Mountaineers will practice on their grass practice field Thursday if the rain that has plagued the area discontinues by today. East Carolina has a Bermuda grass surface on Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (43,000). WVU will have a walkthrough at the facility on Friday...Rodriguez said he plans to play third team running back Jason Colson a limited number of plays this week...Former Cameron star Scott Beresford could see action at tight end in passing situations.
Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org