Injuries, Shuffles Continuing Challenge For WVU Offensive Line
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — The issue of depth often gets boiled down to a simple categorization — you either have it or you don’t. The process of getting there, though, is much more complex, and much more revealing in determining just how deep a position is. The offensive line, with its demands on execution of both the individual and teamwork stripes, has perhaps the biggest learning curve in that regard.
Heading into the 2017, the hope was that West Virginia’s offensive line was ready to give the simple answer — “Yes” — to the question of whether depth existed. That was an oversimplification, and ignored the amount of work that had to be completed in order to get to the point where at least eight linemen were ready to play. Complicating matters was the loss of Grant Lingafelter in the opening game to injury, which forced the elevation of Josh Sills — heretofore slated as one of the three backups — and Isaiah Hardy, who was destined to redshirt. Those moves put a crimp in the development aspect of the starting five as a group. It wasn’t that Sills wasn’t talented, but simply a matter that the first five had been working together a lot more to develop the cohesiveness necessary to be a top flight offensive line. To be sure, backups rotated in at times, but the bulk of the work, as needed to happen, went to the first five.
As a result, WVU’s offensive line isn’t quite as far along as it might have been had it remained injury free. Unit coach Joe Wickline isn’t unhappy with the results so far, and would never blame injuries for shortcomings, but it’s clear the shuffling has had an effect on the Mountaineer offensive front.
“It’s like every other time when you try to develop some guys and some continuity and some chemistry,” Wickline said in assessing the blocking front’s progress to date. “We’ve missed on some things, but as a whole I think they are climbing the mountain and fighting the good fight. They’ve never gone backwards, they’ve gotten better.”
That last might be the most important. As players and units develop, they often hit a spot where progress halts for a while, or even goes in reverse. Fundamentals go out the window, lessons aren’t kept in top of mind, and play backslides. While Wickline might not have seen everything he wants out of the line to date, though, he is happy overall with where it is and how it has weathered Lingafelter’s injury.
Heading into the Kansas game, Wickline gets the senior back. Lingafelter has been practicing all week, giving WVU more options up front. It would be assumed that Lingafelter would move in front of Hardy at a minimum, and perhaps even go back to his starting role, but Wickline wants more assessment first.
“He can play either side,” the veteran Mountaineer assistant said. “I would be careful with what any depth chart says. We’ll see how he looks this week and go from there.”
So, does WVU continue on the path of the last two weeks and try to continue on Sills’ crash course, or does it go back to the five from the start of the year? That can be a tough call, with a number of issues in play. How close in terms of performance are the two? Is it easier to flip Lingafelter as the primary backup on both sides, as Kelby Wickline does at tackle? And perhaps most of all, how much investment in terms of practice and game snaps are made in each?
While speaking of center Matt Jones, Wickline’s words apply to every lineman.
“Whatever level you are at, it’s about more looks and seeing it and getting better,” he said, noting that experience and on-the-job training are vital. “I’ve pleased with Sills. He is going to be a really good player there but it’s going to take time.”