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West Virginia Mountaineers Spring Football Preview: Offensive Line

West Virginia's offensive line offers a number of options to look at during spring practice, and judging from the early comments of the Mountaineer coaching staff, we'll see a lot of them during the fifteen practice sessions over the next month.

A reminder: we're grouping the players on the field this spring according to their contributions so far, and slotting them into the following groups. That should allow better judgments on what players have achieved to date, and how much they still have to prove during the spring sessions. We're only including the players who will be on campus and participating in the spring – transfers and newcomers that don't arrive until the summer will be looked at prior to the beginning of fall practice. The groups are:

Starter: Players with established Division I starting experience
Contributor: Players with significant backup time on the field on offense or defense
Unproven: Those with only special teams experience or minimal playing time

THE PLAYERS

This is the first of several positions where the word “depth” will be thrown around without much thought – but we’re here to correct that snap judgment. While the Mountaineers do indeed have more players to try along the offensive line than in past seasons, the vast majority of them go into the “unproven” category. That doesn’t mean that these players can’t play, or won’t develop into solid performers. It just means that up until this point, they haven't shown what they can do on the field. That last step from practices to games is often the toughest of all.

STARTERS: Guard Kyle Bosch heads the list of returnees, and the only question around him will be of his versatility. Can he flip to the other side of the line, or slide out to tackle if need be? The rising senior will have to be the anchor of a line that must replace three starters from last year.

Although he was injured in the first game of 2016, Yodny Cajuste certainly slots into this group. He had snared the starting job in 2015, but knee and hand injuries kept him out of six games in the latter half of the year. While he will “participate” in spring drills, according to head coach Dana Holgorsen, he could be held out of some full contact work. As of bowl practices, he was still not dressing for on-field work, and was instead doing conditioning, stretching and other routines on the sidelines with other injured Mountaineers. Some of this is done out of caution, as there's no rush to get relatively proven performers back on the field, but there are also the goals of developing team chemistry and working with a different coach to consider. Still, his presence helps give the Mountaineers a nice start in rebuilding the line.

Marcell Lazard has played in 25 games over the past two years, with 12 starts, putting him solidly in this group at tackle. He’ll again be in the mix for a starting spot this year, but perhaps the best thing here is that he won’t automatically get the job. Cajuste and Colton McKivitz will push, an a number of players in the lower categories will also get their shots.

Colton McKivitz rounds out the group of four returning starters, as he was on the field at the beginning of 10 of the 13 games in 2016. He still has a lot of things he can improve upon, but as a redshirt sophomore he’s way ahead of the curve. The battle between he, Cajuste, Lazard and perhaps Grant Lingafelter will be an item to watch, but the Mountaineers need all four to improve and be viable options before they can truly use the term “depth” at tackle.

CONTRIBUTORS: Grant Lingafelter has seen action in 22 games, but none has a starter. He’s gotten enough snaps to qualify him for the contributor spot, and he’ll definitely get a long look to see if he can become a starter at guard – or perhaps even tackle. He's been dependable as a back-up -- now WVU needs him to take that next step and seize a starting role.

UNPROVEN: While these names may be very familiar to many WVU fans, the on-field contributions of the entire group is quite limited, with many never having seen the field. That makes this spring very important for the sophomores in the class who are all entering their third years in the program. Jah'Shaun Seider, Matt Jones and Rob Dowdy head that group, and will probably compete with Kelby Wickline, who arrived on campus after a year at junior college, for many of the backup spots. They could also, in the right circumstances, wind up as starters, so that by next year WVU will have a very nice line of progression set up.

Ray Raulerson, a junior transfer from Tennessee, will also get a long look, while Jacob Buccigrossi, Josh Sills and walk-on Zach Davis will be entering their first year of real competition after a redshirt season. They’ll be part of a sorting out process that separates potential tackles from guards, and also get a good evaluation that will see where they stand with those above them on the eligibility chart. Redshirt junior Dontae Angus will be under the gun to show if he has any chance of making a bid for playing time.

That isn’t all, though. Chase Behrndt will move over from the defensive line, where he played on the scout team last year, and Alec Shriner could also follow. Shriner might get looks on both sides of the ball, but at least one will remain on offense this fall.

OUTLOOK

While we try to identify players at one position, the reality is that offensive line coach Joe Wickline will mix and match his players a great deal in the spring, with the potential of that extending into the regular season. Wickline is a big believer, probably even more so than past WVU offensive line coaches, in trying players at multiple positions and having them man those spots when necessary. In his view, a good offensive lineman can often adapt his skills to the demands of different spots, and on opposite sides of the line, so this spring should be a melting pot of players and positions. They might not always be evident in scrimmage sessions, but through position unit drills, there will be a lot of scrutiny to find players that are versatile.

Center will be one of the focal points of the spring, and while a starter or a definite rotation won't emerge quickly, Wickline will be looking for a group of contestants to separate themselves from the pack. Jones, Seider, and Raulerson all figure to get looks here, and it won't be a surprise to see more names at least get a tryout. There's a definite skill to be able to snap the ball accurately while getting into blocking position, and with the addition of line calls and coordination added in, it makes sense to make the tryout pool as deep as possible.

With 15 or 16 offensive linemen on the roster, Wickline will have a number of options to work with. The winnowing down process, or even the development of a depth chart, won’t be the focus in the spring. Wickline will be looking for those players who he feels can start or contribute this fall, and whether that number is six, 11 or something in between, he’ll mix and match them to the best effect. That task is also down the road, but for the spring he’ll be seeing who can adjust to his coaching style and execute in the manner that he demands.

Wickline’s style, and points of emphasis in coaching, will also be something to watch in the spring. How do the linemen respond to him, and the absence of Ron Crook? Wickline and Crook never discussed exactly how much line coaching each did last year, but Wickline definitely had more hands-on work with that group than was advertised. That could help in the transition process.

Previously In The Spring Series:

Quarterbacks


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