Although it's never good to lose a player of Adam Pankey's caliber going into the season's opening week, there are certainly other positions on the Mountaineers roster that would have felt a much larger impact by losing a starter. This offensive line is the deepest group that Ron Crook has had since taking over the unit in 2014, as the Mountaineers can rotate up to eight players in and out of games when at full strength. Crook admitted that it will be a challenge to lose a three year starter like Pankey, but said the Mountaineers practice rotating bodies in and out, and that should help in replacing the veteran left guard.
"There's no doubt," Crook admitted when asked about whether there's a comfort level with Pankey on the offensive line. "That's what's so hard when you do have someone new out there - how are they going to fit in with the guys beside them? There is a trust level when they have played beside a guy for 18 or 19 games and all of a sudden there is someone new in there and that can have an impact.
"That's why I do a lot of what I do during the preseason camp. We get guys on the right side and the left side, at guard and at tackle. We do all of that stuff so they have played beside each other and they can have that comfort level."
That comfort level is a big reason why Marcell Lazard was able to edge out Colton McKivitz for the starting right tackle spot. Crook also touched on Lazard and how his progression him helped him beat out McKivitz for the starting job.
"Marcell has been through it, he's seen it and nothing is going to shock him out there," Crook said. "He's had a good preseason and I really like the direction he's going."
West Virginia's line features a lot of returning experience and there is no doubt the potential is there for this line to be one of the best units in the conference and possibly the country. Crook acknowledges the group's potential but says he will need to see how they respond and perform in big situations before he is ready to throw around that kind of praise. One thing Crook did say, however, is that this group possesses some of the same leadership qualities as some of the other great offensive lines that the veteran coach has been around.
"You can have young guys come in and make an impact," Crook said. "To really take control of the position, in my opinion, you need experience and you need guys who have been beside each other, trust each other and know each other."
The Mountaineers' line certainly have that experience, it's just a matter of reaching their potential and doing what needs to be done to enable the offense to make big plays in big moments.
One of the players who will be most affected by Pankey's suspension is center Tyler Orlosky who lines up next to the left guard and regularly communicates with guards and other linemen before the ball is snapped in order to make the right reads and adjustments. Orlosky talked about fifth-year senior Tony Matteo, who is tasked with replacing Pankey.
"Tony has been out for a few weeks with an ankle injury," Orlosky said. "He'll come back this week and hopefully polish off the rust, but I'm happy with Tony being the next man up. He's the same age as me, he's been here as long as I have and he knows the offense. He knows what he's supposed to do."
Matteo sustained an ankle injury roughly two weeks ago, but head coach Dana Holgorsen revealed that he has been cleared for full-contact practice, and it appears to be just in time as the Mountaineers begin their prep work for Missouri this week. Orlosky seemed pleased to start focusing on another defense, as he's grown tired of hitting his own teammates and first team defense over the past several weeks.
"It's part of the game," Orlosky said about the defense knowing what the offense is working on in summer practice. "Gibby will know what plays we're going to run before practice. Coach Holgorsen will complain about us not being able to move the ball, but it's kind of hard when the defense knows what we're doing. The guys on our defensive line have been around, they have played a lot and they know our calls and what our plays are when we check stuff so it will be nice to go against a team that doesn't know what we're doing."