After paving the way for the Big 12’s rushing champion in Wendell Smallwood in 2015, the West Virginia Mountaineers' offensive line is looking to pick up right where it left off a season ago.
With plenty of veterans returning along the line, and an infusion of talent in the backfield to block for, that might not be such a ridiculous proposition either.
Redshirt senior center Tyler Orlosky is the unquestioned anchor of the big men up front, and the veteran has seen talented running backs come and go over his time in Morgantown. But there is a common theme among the true playmakers: A desire to learn and get better every day.
That’s a quality that everyone saw in Smallwood early in his WVU career, and it paid dividends for three years. Orlosky said he sees some of those same qualities in freshman running back Kennedy McKoy.
“You know, being here for five years, not many times is a freshman able to come in and pick up an offense, no matter how simple. I mean, our offense is pretty simple, but you don’t get that. Especially a running back coming in and picking it up that fast, kids aren’t usually able to do that,” Orlosky said.
“That’s one thing Wendell was able to do. Wendell obviously played as a true freshman, and (Kennedy) has the same type of attitude, coming in and working hard every day. That’s what you’re going to ask for from a young guy.”
If his first spring in Morgantown is any indication, the Smallwood comparisons could follow McKoy the rest of his career, but it’s going to take plenty of time and a few thousand rushing yards before he can become the vocal leader his predecessor was.
“He gets out of the backfield pretty fast. (Wendell) did a pretty good job with that. He has to work a little bit with communication. He’s a little shy back there, but obviously that’s just him being a freshman and not knowing. I think he’ll be pretty good for us this season,” Orlosky said.
Whether it’s McKoy or Rushel Shell or any of the other options WVU has in the backfield toting the rock, they will be doing so behind an offensive line that has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to playing experience.
“I think combined we have 90 starts among the five or six guys who are going to be competing for a job. We’re all used to how we play next to each other, and I think that will help us down the road this season,” Orlosky said.
The ground and pound is what gets offensive lineman excited to come out of the huddle, but protecting the quarterback is an equally important part of the equation for success.
West Virginia was in the middle of the pack in pass protection in the Big 12 last season, allowing 32 total sacks, but with a fresh voice in offensive coordinator Joe Wickline to go with the direction of offensive line coach Ron Crook, the Mountaineers are looking to tweak some things and improve on that number come next fall.
“I think coach Wick has done a good job working with coach Crook to get the pass protection technique down,” Orlosky said.
“Our schemes haven’t changed, it was just more of a technique thing, and I think we did a good job getting that down.”