With spring practice having concluded with the 2015 Gold-Blue Game in Morgantown on April 25th BlueGoldSports’ Data Analyst and Senior Writer Mark Fought breaks down each WVU football position group going into the long days of waiting for fall practice to begin. Today, the offensive line.
In 2014 five (5) Mountaineer offensive linemen more than earned the label of “workhorse” by participating in over 90 percent of the total offensive plays from scrimmage at their respective positions. Left tackle (LT) Adam Pankey, Left Guard (LG) Quinton Spain, Center (C) Tyler Orlosky, Right Guard (RG) Mark Glowinski and Right Tackle (RT) Marquis Lucas did yeoman’s work up front purely from a participation standpoint. As previously chronicled by www.WVUsports.com’s John Antonik, of the 1,097 offensive snaps for the Mountaineers last season Pankey participated in 99 percent of them, as did Orlosky and Glowinski, and Lucas checked in at 97 percent. In the 12 regular season games only one of the five – Spain – missed an entire game’s worth of action (the last regular season contest against Iowa State), which dropped his snaps participation percentage to a “mere” 92. The year before, the starting Mountaineer lineman averaged at least 80 percent of the season’s offensive snaps at their respective positions.
While the effort put forth by the WVU offensive linemen in 2014 and 2013 is admirable it points to a lack of quality depth up front. Fortunately for the Mountaineers, injuries have been limited along the O line the past two seasons but that is a trend that cannot continue indefinitely. Developing depth up front (which has been an issue practically since Dana Holgorsen took the reins as head coach) was a primary goal of the WVU coaching staff this spring and, per Holgorsen’s post-Gold-Blue Game remarks, that mission was accomplished. Holgorsen noted that there were eight (8) linemen that he was confident in inserting into the O line rotation as spring practice ended and that twelve (12) offensive linemen had received reps during the spring. (I counted 13, but I’ll trust Holgorsen on that one!)
An area in which the WVU offensive line must improve in 2015 as a group is in pass blocking, evidenced by the quantity of sacks allowed. West Virginia allowed 28 of them in the 2014 regular season and 3 more in the Liberty Bowl, which placed the Mountaineers seventh in the Big 12 in that category and tied for 85th in Division 1. (The conference leader – Oklahoma – by contrast allowed only 8 regular season sacks.)
Run blocking was respectable in 2014 – 4.2 yards per carry, good for fourth in the Big 12 and 43rd in Division 1. The line also did its job in short yardage situations. Last season WVU faced a 3rd-and-1 situation 20 times and was successful 100 percent of the time (12-of-12) in converting when running the ball. Similarly, WVU faced 3rd-and-2 situations 14 times in 2014 and was successful converting on 6-of-10 running attempts, so short yardage situations were not a problem, indicating that the front five was getting a good push when the opposing defensive line knew it was coming.
Let’s take a look at each position along the offensive line to see who appeared to lock down a starting spot as spring practice concluded and who the key reserves might be when fall practice begins in August. (Measurables below are taken from the 2015 WVU roster shown on www.wvusports.com – the university’s official athletics website.)
Redshirt freshman Yodny Cajuste (6’-5”, 293), part of the “Miramar pipeline” from Miramar High School in Miami, FL, appears to have the inside track to replace Pankey, who has slid down to guard. A finger injury limited Cajuste’s repetitions at the end of spring drills but the coaches were effusive in their praise of the youngster throughout the spring.
It is rare for a freshman – true or redshirt – to start on a Division 1 offensive line, as there may not be a position on the field that requires more learning (footwork, hips, hands, etc. – all which could broadly be put under the category of “technique”) and strength/physical development than an offensive lineman, particularly a tackle – even more so an LT, who is responsible for protecting a right-handed quarterback’s blind side. (Both Skylar Howard and William Crest are right-handed.) Can a redshirt freshman effectively square off against premier Big 12 edge rushers, such as Baylor’s sack specialist Shawn Oakman, Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah and TCU’s James McFarland? Offensive line coach Ron Crook and Holgorsen must think so, or Cajuste would not be the leading candidate to be the starter at this critical position.
Cajuste will learn some lessons the hard way, as every freshman does. The coaches will need to keep Cajuste in the right frame of mind to help him grow as the inevitable errors take place so he can learn from them. Hopefully, most of those issues can be addressed in fall camp, but they will appear in games, as well. Watch early in the fall to see how Cajuste reacts to them if he earns the starting role.
Pushing Cajuste are redshirt juniors Russell Haughton-James (6’-5”, 292) from Plantation, FL and Sylvester Townes (6’-6”, 298) from Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, MS. Haughton-James appears to be the first option to spell Cajuste and provides added value in terms of flexibility, as he can play either tackle spot (LT or RT).
Last season’s starting LT will likely be this season’s starting LG – redshirt junior Adam Pankey (6-5”, 312) from Hamilton, OH. In assessing the line’s performance in 2014 the coaches felt that Pankey’s size and skills set were more suited to guard than tackle and his switch to the inside position is a permanent one. Crook moved Spain from tackle to guard in the middle of 2013 and that switch worked out quite well, so history is on WVU’s side with this kind of move.
Pushing Pankey at LG is redshirt sophomore Tyler Tezeno (6’-4”, 317) from Houston, TX. Tezeno has good size to take on defensive tackles but needs additional work on technique to challenge Pankey.
Redshirt junior Tyler Olosky (6’-4”, 297) from Cleveland, OH will be back for a second consecutive season starting at center. The center position is the quarterback of the offensive line, calling out instructions to his fellow linemen based on the offensive play called and how the defensive front is aligned when the center goes over the ball. It takes not just size, strength, technique and brawn to play this position, but intelligence, too, and Orlosky has all of those characteristics. Look for Orlosky to make a few all-Big 12 preseason lists when they start coming out this summer.
Backing up Orlosky will be Stone Underwood (6’-4”, 300). The redshirt senior from Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi was one of the eight players that Holgorsen said he’d be comfortable putting into a game as spring practice ended. Underwood played at guard last year but was a center at Copiah-Lincoln and is moving back to his more natural position over the football.
Redshirt junior Tony Matteo (6’-4”, 296) started in place of Spain in last year’s Iowa State game, so he has at least one start under his belt, and the Clinton, OH (near Akron) product saw action in four other games, as well. Matteo had been a back-up at center before moving to guard late last year.
Battling Matteo for playing time will be Grant Lingafelter (6’5”, 304), a redshirt sophomore from Chagrin Falls, OH (near Cleveland).
This could be a position where time is more evenly shared between the two Buckeye State products.
Like Orlosky, redshirt senior Marquis Lucas (6’-4”, 318) from Miami, FL will return for a second year of starting at his position. Marcell Lazard (6’-6”, 310) from Bloomfield, NJ is a redshirt freshman that holds great promise for the future, but will likely see limited snaps in 2015 if Lucas does another workhouse kind of year at his position.
Other lineman getting some reps this spring included Amanii Brown (r-Fr., 6’-5”, 290, Morgantown, WV), Johnathan Haynes (r-Fr., 6’-5”, 312, Annapolis, MD) and Brendan Willis (r-So., 6’-2”, 280, Centreville, VA), but none of those three should see snaps in 2015 unless a serious injury situation forces them into action.
Michigan transfer Kyle Bosch, a 6’-5”, 318-pound junior from St. Charles, IL could enter the mix, as well, but as of this writing he is awaiting word on his eligibility from the NCAA (which seems to take inordinate amounts of time to render decisions in such cases).
The 8 players that Holgorsen indicated were “game ready” at the conclusion of spring practice were the projected starters – Cajuste, Pankey, Orlosky, Matteo and Lucas – along with the versatile Haughton-James (who could plug in at either tackle slot), Underwood and Lingafelter.
A promising group of consensus 3-star rated incoming freshman on the O line include: Matt Jones (6’-4”, 290) from Hubbard, OH, who is projected for a guard position; Rob Dowdy (6’-6”, 280) from Westerville, OH, who appears destined for a tackle spot; Alec Shriner (6’-4”, 285) from Oviedo, FL, likely to play at guard; Jahshaun Seider (6’-4”, 285) from Belle Glade, FL, another guard that just happens to be WVU running backs coach JuJuan Seider’s younger brother; and Colton McKivitz (6’-7”, 262) from Belmont, OH, who likely will be a tackle. Expecting any of these five to make an immediate impact is sheer folly, but a year in the program and 2016 could be the year one or more of them begins to make noise.
“Communication” is a term that Holgorsen mentions frequently and it is generally in reference to the coach-quarterback relationship, but communication along the offensive line is an important and often overlooked aspect of effective O line play. Knowing where your fellow linemen are supposed be and, even more importantly, how they will react when the designed scheme breaks down or the defense has thrown a disguise at their counterparts and improvisation is called for are keys to making plays work that otherwise might get blown up.
Some keys to watch for in fall camp and throughout games this fall along the offensive line are:
- How quickly do the tackles move from their pre-snap stances to their positions on the corners to take away edge rushers’ paths to the quarterback in obvious passing situations?
- Do the linemen maintain good balance and wide stances, which is critical to using leverage?
- Do the linemen bend more at their knees or with their waists? If the former, they are demonstrating good technique; if the latter, not so much.
- In run blocking situations, do the linemen engage defenders first with their hands, then with their bodies, and do they keep their fists inside the defenders’ shoulders?
- Are the lineman playing with intensity and aggressiveness to maintain and finish blocks? This is the “nastiness” factor that most good line groups possess.
With the goal of spring practice being getting all players reps and identifying a potential starting five, in fall practice the goal is game preparation and the reps allotted to those linemen lower on the depth chart will diminish. Statements can obviously be made during the early portion of fall camp and some jockeying of the depth chart can occur, but by and large progress in linemen occurs incrementally and the die may already have been cast as to who the starters will be along the WVU offensive line in 2015. However, competition is vital to push whoever ends up starting and this summer promises to be a busy one for all of WVU’s linemen to improve their skills and ready themselves for the dog days of August.
Also read BGS post spring analysis – Quarterbacks
Also read BGS post spring analysis – Running Backs