Previewing West Virginia’s Offensive Line Room
We began our Spring preview coverage of the West Virginia Mountaineers by providing a general overview. Then, we covered the quarterbacks and moved on to the running backs. Now, we continue our Spring coverage by previewing West Virginia’s offensive line room.
Revamping the Offensive Line
During our Winter coverage, we wrote extensively about Head Coach Neal Brown‘s efforts to revamp the offensive line. Indeed, what many considered a liability two years ago is now a potential strength of the team. Not including any walk-ons who might earn scholarships this Spring or Summer, the Mountaineers feature 13 scholarship offensive linemen. Of those 13 , four of them are blue chip recruits. This represents the highest total West Virginia featured on the roster at one time (doubling the previous high of two). In fact, since the beginning of the modern recruiting era in 2001, the Mountaineers recruited only three other blue chip offensive lineman.
Previewing The Experience In The First Line
Unlike the prior two seasons, West Virginia can roll out five offensive linemen who have logged significant snaps. One, Doug Nester, who transferred from Virginia Tech as an All Conference performer, logged well over 1,000 snaps. James Gmiter tallied over 800 snaps in two seasons. Brandon Yates and Zach Frazier add over 500 snaps each. Finally, John Hughes adds over 450 snaps.
As we discussed in prior assessments of this unit, the ideal situation is to have five to seven linemen with snaps hovering around 500 and above. This provides veteran starting experience and depth for injuries. Then, a staff can also rotate less-experience bodies onto the line to preserve continuity. West Virginia remains one year away from the “ideal” situation, but it is also not far removed from it, especially considering its talent level. Indeed, ten of the bodies in the offensive line room rank among the top-twenty OL recruits for West Virginia since 2001. That is significant.
Spring Focus On The Offensive Line Room
Brown told us during the last two media sessions that a major focus of Spring ball was to develop strength on the lines and discipline across the team. He also said that he planned to teach each of the lineman to play multiple positions. The tackles will also learn to line up at guard, and the guards would also learn to line up at center. Given the relative lack of veteran depth on the roster, this is smart.
Indeed, the depth chart at center illustrates best the problem Brown seeks to avoid. As of now, West Virginia features only one player with substantial experience at center: Frazier. They may well look to walk-on Nick Malone to round out the depth chart. To create the needed competition, though, Brown and Offensive Line Coach Matt Moore will also look at Gmiter, Tairiq Stewart, Donovan Beaver, and a few others to see if they can handle those duties.
West Virginia will be short a few bodies for the Spring. Incoming blue chip freshman Wyatt Milum and potential hidden gem Tomas Rimac arrive in the Summer. Blue chip Virginia transfer Ja’Quay Hubbard remains limited. As a result, the others should see plenty of reps to carve out spots on the two-deep.
As usual, Brown seeks to provide continuous motivation to his roster. As a result, Brown told media that he does not worry too much about naming starters before, during, or after Spring camp. We can, however, offer some guesses. For example, we can all but pencil in Yates as the starter at left tackle. Frazier will start at center. Nester could start at either left guard or right tackle. If Nester starts out a right tackle, Hughes slides in one of the guard spots. If not, Hughes likely mans the right tackle slot. That leaves an open competition for the other guard spot. We might also see a surprise at right tackle.
With the level of talent, however, previewing the offensive line room will continue to prove fun. Undoubtedly, it represents a somewhat seismic shift from what the room looked like two years ago. We could see the staff add another transfer to this room, but we tend to doubt it. Also, we can expect that Milum and Rimac will come in hungry to play from day one of Summer camp. Perhaps most exciting of all is the fact that only one body in the room has senior eligibility in Hughes.