MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It’s not the kind of reminiscence Ron Crook enjoys, but West Virginia’s 2014 offensive line was essentially a band of five with no backup singers.
There were zero game-ready linemen beyond the starters, meaning Crook’s unit approached every snap an injury away from chaos.
So when Dana Holgorsen compliments this season’s deep rotation, the big-grinning Crook interjects a qualifier:
“Remember we’re coming from a year where we felt like we had no depth, so any depth at all seems like a lot.”
The workload hoisted upon last season’s starters was unprecedented. Out of 1,097 offensive plays, left tackle Adam Pankey played 1,092 and center Tyler Orlosky snapped the ball on 1,089. Right tackle Marquise Lucas played 1,060, which made him almost a slacker by comparison.
This was neither Crook’s preference nor design. Of West Virginia’s seven wins, five were one-possession games in the fourth quarter. Same went for four of the six losses. Opportunities to play the second-unit guys were rare, as were second-unit guys who warranted opportunities.
Not one for participation trophies, Crook wasn’t willing to sub in a player for the sake of subbing alone—not if it meant a significant drop-off. “Guys get on the field because they deserve to be there and because they’re good enough to help us win,” he said Tuesday. “When we’re talking about depth, we’re talking about quality players.”
There is quality, and apparently more quantity, on hand this fall. The fact that even one starting job remained in contention until this week reflects it. That final spot went to Michigan transfer Kyle Bosch, named the starter at right guard over junior Tony Matteo.
It was by no means a season-long appointment.
Matteo lost his grasp on the job partially due to bad timing; he missed a crucial week of preseason camp with a shoulder injury. So Bosch will start Saturday night’s opener against Georgia Southern, though coaches suggested Matteo could see action by the second series.
“I want both of them playing a lot,” Crook said. “(Bosch) has been able to play more physical, and he’s done a great job learning the offense, but there’s still stuff to learn. (The starter) is not going to be set in stone for the season. There’s going to be a lot of pulling guys in and moving guys around.”
With Pankey shifting to guard, West Virginia will try its fourth starter at left tackle in 22 games. If redshirt freshman Yodny Cajuste reaches his ceiling, however, he could bring several years of continuity to the position.
Teammates on both sides of the ball have labeled the 6-foot-5, 293-pounder a potential high-round draft pick—proof that everyone likes to play Todd McShay for a day. In the short term, let’s see how his first college game proceeds.
Perhaps Cajuste will be athletic enough to cover up any rookie missteps, but as Crook cautioned, “We’ll let you know more Sunday afternoon after we watch the game tape.”
Unlike last season, at least Crook has alternatives. Pankey, for instance, continues cross-training at tackle, and third-year sophomore Grant Lingafelter—having grown from a 265-pound signee to his present 315—is progressing as an understudy at both spots.
Marcell Lazard, another redshirt sophomore, is developing behind Lucas at the opposite tackle, and senior center Stone Underwood finished what Holgorsen described as a “great camp” behind Orlosky.
As some fawned over a depth chart that actually has depth, Holgorsen checked up: “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and say that we are the best offensive line unit in the world.” No one even suggests the Mountaineers have the best line in the Big 12, but a rotation that conceivably stretches eight or nine deep conceivably means fresher starters at season’s end.
That was inconceivable last year.