MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–West Virginia University’s offensive line has been its weak spot at times but with several returning players the 2016 football season could be the year the line emerges.
The Mountaineers lost two offensive linemen after last season. Both Stone Underwood and Marques Lucas graduated and played in their final game in the Cactus Bowl in January.
Lucas was a solid lineman who played both guard and tackle. He started in 26 games during his final two seasons at WVU. Underwood never locked up a starting spot but was a dependable backup.
In order for the Mountaineers to be a dominant force in the Big 12, the offensive line needs to improve its pass protection.
WVU threw 33.1 passes per game and its quarterbacks were sacked, on average, 2.4 times per game last season.
When head coach Dana Holgorsen hired offensive coordinator Joe Wickline, he was hoping to improve in this area.
Wickline was the co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Texas. He also coached the line at Oklahoma State, Florida, Middle Tennessee State, Baylor and Ole Miss.
At WVU, he is responsible for full backs and tight ends as well as helping offensive line coach Ron Crook clean up the edge of the line.
“A lot of people have been asking me why I hired two o-line coaches,” Holgorsen said. “I tell them that there is 20 kids over there. It is hard for one guy to keep track of. There are so many. The NFL has two. Everybody has two. Those guys are really working well together. The tackles and the tight ends are getting a lot of individual attention with coach Wickline, and then coach Crook has strength. The reason I brought him here was because what he could do with the interior o-line. He can get those guys playing pretty nasty in the run game, and hopefully, in the pass game as well.”
And Crook and Wickline appear to be doing just that.
“We have spent a lot of time this spring focusing on pass protection,” Crook said. “I don’t think I have let the cat out of the bag. That it is something that we need to improve. You know the guys are taking it to heart. We are working hard on it every day. They are focused on it in the meeting room. They see it on film. We spend a lot of time talking about it, so they have bought into what we have talked about and what we are coaching them. It’s all about them going out there and executing. So far, they have been improving from last year.”
The players are also noticing the improvement of the team’s pass protection.
“I think we have gotten a lot better,” redshirt senior center Tyler Orlosky said. “Coach Wicks has helped us a lot with that technique. Our schemes really need to be adjusted. I think we have the schemes correct and everything but our technique was lacking at times. I think him and coach Crook have done a really good job at fixing it.”
Crook believes that having experienced players return will also boost run blocking.
“I think we are improving there,” he said. “The reason we are making improvements is because we have guys who have been through this. They have been in games, and they know what it takes. They understand the techniques and the terminology that we are using, so it is all about them going out there and improving every day.”
The Mountaineers have a lot of depth on the offensive line, which should play a role in its improvement.
“I think we will be really good,” Orlosky said. “Losing one guy doesn’t hurt us too much. We lost a good player in Marques (Lucas) but I think we have a lot of guys that can step in to that role and fill it for him.”
That depth means that some positions on the line are up for grabs this fall.
“I think Yodny (Cajuste), (Adam) Pankey and Tyler (Orlosky) are pretty solid right now,” Holgorsen said. “There is some competition at the right side, and it has nothing to do with how (redshirt junior Kyle) Bosch or (redshirt sophomore) Marcell (Lazard) are doing. It has everything to do with how (redshirt freshman Colton McKivitz) Colt and (redshirt senior) Tony Matteo are doing. Those guys are fighting for a job right now.”
The competition for starting spots has really brought out the best in everyone this spring.
“Competition always brings out the best in anybody,” Matteo said. “Sometimes you create that and helps get the best player in there. That’s the goal of everything, get the best five in there.”