MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Known for building offensive lines with interchangeable pieces, assistant coach Joe Wickline demands the same versatility from his players at West Virginia.
That’s why All-Big 12 right guard Kyle Bosch flipped to the left side, and 2016 backup Grant Lingafelter moved from left guard to Bosch’s previous spot. Colton McKivitz, a 10-game starter at left tackle last season in the wake of Yodny Cajuste’s injury, has transitioned to right tackle in anticipation of Cajuste’s return.
“We’re blessed in some areas, because we have some guys coming back who are good players,” Wickline said. “And we have some guys who are just now starting to feel themselves — starting to get in a rhythm where you can see them put six or eight plays together with no major issues.
“It’s a thin group, it’s not a deep group.”
Nevermind a second unit. In his quest for depth, Wickline merely hopes to find a reserve guard capable of stepping in on both sides and another able to swing between both tackles. (This is where Marcell Lazard’s transfer to Boston College leaves a void.) There’s also some shuffling at center behind untested sophomore Matt Jones.
Still, the talent among the starting five fuels projections West Virginia’s line could be among the conference’s best.
Wickline sounded optimistic about the senior initiative displayed by Bosch and Lingafelter this spring and summer. (“They’re carrying themselves differently and showing some extra energy in their step.”) The change in approach has filtered down to the younger players, like the sophomore McKivitz.
“Last year I went home a lot — to see the family, go fishing on the weekends or whatever,” he said. “But now I kind of catch myself thinking ‘I’ll just stay here an do extra stuff.’ My mentality has changed.”
No player faces more scrutiny or wields more responsibility than Jones, tasked with replacing 42-game starter Tyler Orlosky at center. After generating strong reviews this spring, the 6-foot-2, 316-pounder figures to receive a stark evaluation in the opener against Virginia Tech.
Fellow Ohioan and bass fishing buddy McKivitz said the line is gaining confidence in Jones.
“I always mess with him that he’s the captain center and he played six snaps last year,” McKivitz said. “We’re just trying to bring him along, get him good with the play book. It’s his call, we go off him.”
In his typically cautious fashion, Wickline said of Jones’ potential:
“He’s thick enough, he’s athletic enough and strong enough. But he’s like on his first or second stair and we’ve got a lot of steps to take.”