Center of attention: Jones trails Buccigrossi in preseason battle

— By Sean Manning, The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN. W.Va. — Matt Jones started all 13 games last season at center for West Virginia. Across those 900-plus snaps, there weren’t many instances where Jones was even noticed.

For any offensive lineman, being ignored is certainly a good thing.

On Sunday, though, coach Dana Holgorsen said Jones, a redshirt-junior, isn’t even the top center on the team right now — that distinction currently goes to Jacob Buccigrossi.

“Buccigrossi, right now, is ahead of him,” Holgorsen said. “That doesn’t mean he’s going to start, but right now, he’s running with the first team.”

So how could someone who had such a good season a year ago be challenged by someone who didn’t play a single snap?

Buccigrossi tore his ACL during spring camp in 2017 and worked his way back into playing shape during the regular season but never made it into the rotation. Jones, despite not missing game action, was banged up at the end of the year and that carried into spring practice last February.

As a result, Buccigrossi, a redshirt-sophomore from Pittsburgh, got first-team reps and the two have been battling it out for the starting job ever since.

Offensive line coach Joe Wickline believes you don’t really know which is your best option until “you put the ball down and go,” but with Jones’ actual game experience last season, the fact Buccigrossi is getting the first-team reps is indicative of how the coaching staff feels about him.

“Matt’s done a good job of pushing Jacob, but you really don’t know where you’re at there until these guys are challenged in live reps,” Wickline said. “Did they execute their assignments? Did they finish? Were they tough enough to get this done? Were they physical? Were they violent? Did you use your hands? Did you get off those blocks?

“All of those things go into account. It’s not just about making sure the ball gets back to the quarterback.”

As for the connection with quarterback Will Grier, getting to the point where there isn’t a noticeable difference to Grier, whether it’s Buccigrossi or Jones, is a key in camp.

Though one will come out the starter, the other needs to keep pace because working well with the QB is one of the most critical parts of a smooth-flowing offense.

“The relationship between the quarterback and center is obviously important but we’re not worried about Will being uncomfortable working with both Jacob and Matt,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “He worked with Matt all of last year and got first-team reps with Jacob in the spring and so far in camp, so he’s worked his fair share with both of them.

“I think we need both of them to be honest with you because Will’s got to be comfortable with them both. If one goes down we’re still going to be able to go in there and move the ball the way we want to.”

As the competition plays out, Grier seems comfortable with both options.

“I think with Matt and Bucci, they’re both smart guys and we put a lot on them,” he said. “They do a good job at handling it and making sure we have communication both ways and we’re on the same page. It’s important and it’s going well.”

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