Looking At WVU’s Position Battles – Offensive Line
Neal Brown has three seniors and three juniors around whom most of his offensive line will likely be built this coming season.
Today we’ll look at that offensive line, as we continue our position-by-position examination of the 2019 Mountaineers.
(Note – Year of eligibility for returning players listed below is for the 2019 season, while that listed for the departing players is their 2018 class. The * indicates a newcomer who is already enrolled at WVU.)
Returning – Colton McKivitz (Sr.), Kelby Wickline (Sr.), Michael Brown (Sr.), Josh Sills (Jr.), Chase Behrndt (Jr.), Jacob Buccigrossi (Jr.), Zach Davis (Jr.), Eric Sjostedt (Soph.), Daniel Buchanan (Soph.), Adam Stilley (Soph.), Tyler Thurmond (Soph.), Noah Drummond (RFr.), James Gmiter (RFr.), Briason Mays (RFr.), Blaine Scott (RFr.), Junior Uzebu (RFr.),
Departing – Joe Brown (Jr.), Yodny Cajuste (Sr.), Isaiah Hardy (Sr.), Matt Jones (Jr.)
Newcomers – Donavan Beaver (Fr.), Parker Moorer (Fr.), Brandon Yates (Fr.)
West Virginia’s offensive line will have to adjust to its third position coach in the past four years, as Ron Crook led the group from 2013-16, Joe Wickline was in charge in 2017 and ’18, and now Mark Moore comes in with Neal Brown from Troy.
Moore inherits a group that has some returning experience, but also has a few major holes to fill.
None is more experienced than fifth-year senior Colton McKivitz, who has started 35 games in his career, most at right tackle. The past two years he was an honorable mention all-Big 12 pick. Junior Josh Sills (6-6, 320 lbs.) has started 22 games over the past two years, including all 12 last year when he was a second-team all-Big 12 selection. McKivitz will flip to left tackle, a move that Moore said has already been made.
McKivitz and Sills will be the heart of West Virginia’s offensive line and will be two key leaders for the entire team. Moore’s charge this spring will be to mold a unit around that pair. WVU’s other main starters in 2018 – left tackle Yodny Cajuste, right guard Isaiah Hardy and center Matt Jones – have all departed. Cajuste and Hardy graduated, and Jones, who started 25 straight games for WVU at center in 2017 and ‘18, is transferring to Youngstown State.
For Moore, replacing a future pro like Cajuste will be difficult, but finding a center, a position where West Virginia’s current roster shows very little experience, could be his biggest challenge.
Moore has a few experienced options at his disposal.
Kelby Wickline (6-4, 298 lbs.) started three games the past two years at tackle, though the fifth-year senior and son of WVU’s former line coach likely could play any of the three line positions if necessary. Chase Behrndt (6-4, 306 lbs.) started three games early in the 2018 season as WVU was searching for an answer at right guard, though eventually Hardy beat him out. Now Behrndt will have a chance to solidify at starting job, though Mike Brown (6-3, 358 lbs., Sr.) also is likely to factor into that position battle as well. Mike, whom who came to West Virginia from Eastern Arizona C.C. last summer along with his brother Joe (who didn’t return to WVU this spring), didn’t play much this past season, but he seems capable of fighting for a starting job in 2019. Wickline and Behrndt could play multiple positions.
In terms of the center spot, Jacob Buccigrossi (6-3, 306 lbs., Jr.) was the main backup behind Jones this past season, playing in 10 games both at that spot and at guard. The Pittsburgh native will certainly get a shot at winning the starting center job this season, but has been out after undergoing surgery in the offseason. He will not be able to participate in spring practice. Briason Mays (6-3, 302, RFr.) also will likely be a factor there. Dana Holgorsen and his staff heaped praise on Mays at the end of last season, but now the Bolivar, Tenn., native has to win over a new group of coaches. Behrndt, who has spent most of his time at guard in the past, also will get practice reps at center this spring. Moore will almost certainly try others at the center position this spring to see if he has additional options beyond Behrndt, Buccigrossi and Mays.
He does have plenty of young linemen who appear to have promise. Tyler Thurmond (6-4, 288 lbs, Soph.) played in two games this past season as a redshirt freshman. Mays and two other 2018 true freshmen, Junior Uzebu (6-5, 299 lbs.) and Blaine Scott (6-3, 339 lbs.), all sat out game action last year and now will be redshirt freshmen this coming season. While Mays was ticketed for center by Holgorsen’s staff, Scott was working at guard and Uzebu at tackle. Only time will tell if Moore has different plans for them. James Gmiter (6-2, 302 lbs.) is another redshirt freshman who will be added to the offensive line mix this spring. Gmiter spent last fall practicing in the defensive line, though he didn’t see any game action as a true freshman. Now he’s moving over to the offensive side.
West Virginia also has five walk-on offensive linemen – Zach Davis (6-2, 316 lbs., Jr.), Daniel Buchanan (6-4, 309 lbs., Soph.), Eric Sjostedt (6-3, 250 lbs., Soph.), Adam Stilley (6-0, 279 lbs., Soph.) and Noah Drummond (6-0, 282 lbs., RFr.) – who will be looking to establish roles for themselves this spring.
In addition, three high school offensive linemen signed with WVU during the early commitment period – Donavan Beaver (6-7, 310 lbs.), Parker Moore (6-4, 283 lbs.) and Brandon Yates (6-4, 285 lbs.) – and while all three seem to have nice potential, like most incoming freshmen offensive linemen, they’ll each probably need a year or two before they are sufficiently ready for game action.
Previously In The Series