While the potential of junior quarterback Will Grier and the return of Jake Spavital will surely dominate storylines in Morgantown this spring, there is perhaps no bigger challenge for West Virginia's offense than replacing second team AP All-American Tyler Orlosky at the center position. Joe Wickline, who worked solely with tackles and tight ends a season ago, is settling into his new role as the Mountaineers' full-time offensive line coach and will be the man who is tasked with developing a capable replacement in the next sixth months.
According to Wickline the three players who will get the first crack at the starting job are Matt Jones, who backed up Orlosky a year ago, Ray Raulerson, a transfer from the University of Tennessee and Kelby Wickline, a juco product who joins West Virginia's program after playing a season at Jones Community College. While the three will rotate reps with the first team offense, it will most likely be Jones who trots out with the first team O as the Mountaineers' take the field on March 15. That is partly because Jones is the only player on the roster who was snapped the ball in live-game action for the Mountaineers and there is a developed sense of trust with the coaching staff.
"The guys who have played before will always kind of start and we'll bring the other guys around," explained Wickline. "But that's what spring is. Spring is about competing at every position."
And although the veteran line coach faces a monumental task in replacing Orlosky, he does seemed encouraged with what he has to work with entering spring practice.
"(Matt Jones) has got a good build for it. He’s stout, strong, he knows the game and he has a really good snap. Anytime you play center, whether it’s (Tyler) Orlosky or another guy from the past it’s all about making calls and getting into a rhythm with a quarterback and identifying fronts," explained Wickline. "It’s a process so it’s not going to come overnight but I thought Matt did a nice job (last season) and he’s getting better right now as we speak.
"We have Ray Raulerson from Tennessee and he’s got a good build. He’s an older guy and I think that counts for a lot. He’s a guy that’s going to compete for the job and he can also play some guard. We had a mid-year signee in Kelby Wickline that I think is a three-dimensional guy. He can play tackle, he can play guard and he can play center. His flexibility is what makes him extremely important because we’re trying to locate a good fit at center"
While those three will own the lion's share of the repetitions in spring ball, there is little doubt that the competition will carry into fall camp and potentially beyond. For now though, roughly six months before West Virginia takes on Virginia Tech, Wickline just hopes to develop a competition that will bring out the best of his unit.
"We'll put a certain arrangement out there," explained Wickline. "But that won't really stay the same very often if it's going right. If someone (in the position room isn't happy than they're going to change it and that's what we need. We need it to change based on effort, production and getting their guys blocked. We need it to change. This is the time of year to compete."