In Line For Success

One won’t often get much detail out of West Virginia offensive line coach Ron Crook. The state native often speaks in platitudes, and issues just vague notions of negative thought. But in reading between lines, the impression given is a coach far more comfortable in his second season, and one beginning to see a line with which the Mountaineers can contend against the upper echelon of the league.

WVU did that at times last season. It played a Texas team full of five-star recruits to overtime, and really should have won save the inability to convert a second and third and one. Part of that, obviously, was on the line, and that might be the single biggest play during the latter half of the season. In a domino-effect way, that lack of conversion might well have turned West Virginia from a 7-5 team into the 4-8 squad it became. Make the first down against Texas, exhaust the remainder of the clock, and the Mountaineers likely avoid the mental tailspin that encompassed it in the defeat to Kansas, while perhaps avoiding the collapse in what is then not a meaningless game against Iowa State.

WVU, and Crook will state as much, still lacks as much quality depth as one might hope. But the Mountaineers also have what head coach Dana Holgorsen calls perhaps the best guard tandem in the Big 12 in Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski. The center position seems fortified with Tyler Orlosky, who reserve quarterback Logan Moore says is “nasty. He has that mentality for the position.” Orlosky is also a tireless worker, and has the inner drive, according to coaches, to be a high-level center. Stone Underwood provides a quality backup to Spain, and Adam Pankey and Marquis Lucas continue to progress, and are players, as is often stated, with which Big 12 teams can win.

Add in the sheer size – Orlosky is the smallest, as expected, at 6-4, 298 pounds, with all others on the two-deep at least 300 pounds – and the Mountaineers appear to have the tangibles to compete despite replacing three fifth-year starters. What Crook, a Parkersburg native, is trying to hone are the intangibles, how certain guys will react in certain situations and relate to one another. The line, more than any unit in football, must be cohesive. It must operate as a single entity, and there must be an understanding of how players beside one another function. And, as Crook has said, there’s no way to know that until live competition, be it full contact drills or a game.

What’s most beneficial is that West Virginia now has players with some experience playing around each other. The Mountaineers have mostly settled what players will be where, with Pankey (6-6, 305 lbs.) at left tackle, Spain (6-5, 332) at left guard, Orlosky at center, Glowinski (6-5, 310) at right guard and Lucas (6-4, 310) at right tackle. WVU is far less likely this season, with better depth, to feel the need to shuffle players, as they did with Pat Eger last season. And that aspect alone should allow for a far faster comfort level and cohesion to emerge. Crook, below, speaks to the line’s mental focus, its expereince and, as did defensive line coach Tom Bradley, credits the strength and conditioning staff for getting the players at a high fitness level entering drills.

“The guys that we’ve got who are slotted in the starting five, they’ve all played a lot of football here,” Crook said. “I feel good about where those guys are at and replacing those starters and I feel really good about the potential moving forward.”

As a staff, Crook said the coaches did expect Pankey to beat out Sylvester Townes for the starting spot after he recuperated from a knee injury. Pankey, along with Orlosky and backup center Tony Matteo (6-5, 301 lbs.), is just a sophomore. Townes, along with Lucas and Underwood, are juniors, with Spain, Glowinski and reserve right tackle Michael Calicchio (6-9, 315) as the trio of upperclassmen on the two-deep.

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