MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — While reviewing his first season at West Virginia, offensive line coach Ron Crook pinned the harshest critique on himself.
So intent on establishing the power-blocking mentality he brought from Stanford, Crook sensed he might have short-changed the pass-protection reps for a line that featured three new starters. West Virginia wound up allowing 2.33 sacks per game, which ranked 85th out of 123 FBS teams and eighth in the Big 12 conference.
Those images of a woozy Clint Trickett or a blind-sided Paul Millard? Crook prefers to see far fewer of those in 2014.
“The No. 1 thing we’ve got to do a better job of is pass protection, and that’s mostly my fault,” he said. “I emphasized the run a lot when I got here, and we got better in our run game, but now we’ve got to get better protection so that we can become a better offense.”
West Virginia once again will be replacing three starters along the offensive front, though several returnees have game experience. Their offseasons have been marked by reliving—and examining the causes—of pass-protection breakdowns from last season.
“We talk about it at our meetings, we watch the cut-ups, we go through the mistakes and talk about how we’ve got to improve,” Crook said. “After their workouts, they’re working on pass sets, staying square in their alignments as defenders rush off the edge.”
Come Sunday, when spring practice begins, Crook will have his unit in helmets—eager to see who gleaned the most from those winter lessons.
The guard spots appear to be the domain of fifth-year seniors Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski, whom head coach Dana Holgorsen casually referenced last week as one of “the better guard combinations in the country.”
Both started every game last season, though Spain spent the first three weeks at left tackle and returned outside for most of the Kansas game after Curtis Feigt suffered a knee injury. Spain, the most physically gifted lineman on the roster, has 25 consecutive starts to his credit, while Glowinski was a junior college standout before spending 2012 as a redshirt.
“They’ve both played a lot of football,” Crook said. “They’re both big, strong, physical, tough players. They’re dominant and we’ve got to work them so they can develop into one of the best guard tandems in the nation, like Coach says.”
Sophomore Tyler Orlosky, who started the first two games of 2013 before senior Pat Eger shifted to center, figures to be more game-ready this time around. Crook said Orlosky was more productive over the last four games when he spelled Eger for stretches.
Behind Orlosky is sophomore Tony Matteo and junior Stone Underwood, a guard-center swing guy who redshirted in 2013 after signing out of junior college.
The competition at tackle projects to be wide-open, with the serviceable Curtis Feigt and one-year starter Nick Kindler having graduated. Redshirt sophomore Adam Pankey, who jumped into the rotation the second half of the season after only seven months removed from ACL surgery, is vying for a spot, as is converted guard Marquis Lucas, who started three games on the interior in 2013.
“(Lucas) came here as a tackle, so he’s used to playing out there,” Crook said. “We’re trying to find the best spot for him. I kind of fought for this (move) because I think he can help us. So let’s put him out there and see what he can do.”
The other candidates at tackle are redshirt freshman Marcell Lazard, who signed with WVU last year over the likes of Florida, Ohio State ad Michigan, and two junior-college signees—Sylvester Townes and Justin Scott.
While Scott won’t arrive until summer, Townes enrolled midyear and has been acclimating to the demands of the offseason regimen.
“He has been a little bit overwhelmed with the workout routine that we put him through, the amount of stuff that we do in the weight room in the morning, and we told him it was going to be that way,” Crook said. “But he’s improved his body. He’s going the right direction and you can see him moving around better.
“Sylvester has got some toughness to him. Football’s important to him, and he wants to be a good player. The things that he’s going through now—learning all the terminology, learning all the footsteps—it’s a process.”