It was something of a surprise when head coach Dana Holgorsen announced that Adam Pankey, who has more than 1,100 snaps in his West Virginia career, was moving inside from left tackle to left guard. Pankey's mobility and good feet made him a stalwart at the outside position, so a move at this point in the redshirt junior's career raised a bit of a red flag. Was this a demotion? Is there an underlying issue with the development of the line that necessitated these sorts of moves?
While such questions are natural, the answer to the move is a simple one, according to offensive line mentor Ron Crook. And it certainly doesn't have anything to do with Pankey's level of play.
“From my standpoint it's been the way to get the best five players on the field. In the past we did it to get more experience on the field. This year it's trying to get that best five,” he observed. “There's going to be a lot of shuffling guys around this spring. But you never know until you move them around and see who is going to step up.”
Position changes and experimentation are the norm during spring drills, even if they are often of short duration. The move of Pankey appears to be a permanent one, although West Virginia's greater numbers make experimentation more viable this year. While Pankey might be an excellent option at tackle, West Virginia's next best offensive lineman might be playing behind him at that spot. Moving him inside makes space for the "next best guy" and achieves the goal of getting the top five linemen on the field as much as possible.
“The thing that helps us right now is that we have some depth,” Crook said. “We have guys that have played in games. You can move those guys around because they can adjust to it. Adam started every game and played almost every play for us last year at left tackle. It's simply a case of him playing at a high level at guard before he was injured a couple of years ago, so let's put him back in there and see who steps up at tackle. He's probably going to play some tackle this spring too.”
"We will see what our offense can do well,” Crook verified. “If that's run the ball 90% of the time, then that's what we are going to do. If it's throwing it more, we are going to find a way to do it."
-- Ron Crook
West Virginia's better depth and greater experience helps in the shuffling, and also in adjusting to different situations. For example, WVU's somewhat odd spring practice schedule (three sessions, then a week off before four consecutive weeks of three practices each) won't throw the line a curve in Crook's view.
“The thing I like about the schedule is that our guys are older now. They understand what we are doing and understand the offense so I don't think it's an issue. It's good to get those early practices in and have a chance to review and teach before you throw on the pads. It gives us a chance to evaluate and see where we are and what we need to change or how we need to teach.”
Crook also likes the idea of having a mobile quarterback behind the line, believing that lessens the strain to “be perfect” on his blockers in pass protection. While Clint Trickett, last year's starter for much of the season, wasn't afraid to take off and run, it certainly was not his forte, which meant that most pass plays had to be blocked perfectly in order to succeed. With passers who can move and avoid the rush, or run it when needed, the line doesn't have that pressure on it. And while the goal is certainly to make every block, the reality is that's not always going to happen. But when a QB can pick up yardage even when a lineman misses a block, it's like being bailed out by a blocked shot in basketball or a great defensive play in baseball.
With a passing game that must be rebuilt from thrower to catchers, the thinking is that West Virginia will rely more on the running game this fall. While that's certainly a possibility, Crook notes that the coaches don't have a preconceived notion that will be the case. The spring will be used like any other – develop individual skills, install the offense and get an understanding of what the team does best. Only from there will determinations be made as to run-pass ratios or the best methods of attack.
“We will see what our offense can do well,” Crook verified. “If that's run the ball 90% of the time, then that's what we are going to do. If it's throwing it more, we are going to find a way to do it. It will come down to what our guys are good at and what we can do as an offense.”