Position Glance: WVU Offensive Line
By Greg Hunter
West Virginia’s offensive line has some major rebuilding to do, as it is losing three starters from last year’s front.
Leader of that group for the past few seasons was Tyler Orlosky, who started 41 games at center in his career and was an undrafted free agent signee with the Philadelphia Eagles this spring. Also departed is Adam Pankey, who was also a starter for most of the past three seasons, splitting time between left guard and left tackle. Like Orlosky, Pankey was not drafted by an NFL team this spring but was picked up as a free agent by the Green Bay Packers. Tony Matteo was also a senior in last year’s line, starting 11 of the season’s 13 games at left guard. Three other backup offensive linemen from 2016 are not returning, as Sylvester Townes graduated, while underclassmen Dontae Angus and Marcell Lazard left the program. Lazard is heading to Boston College as a graduate transfer. In addition, West Virginia will be without veteran o-line coach Ron Crook, who has taken a similar job at Cincinnati. Joe Wickline, who worked with the Mountaineer tackles and tight ends last season, will now oversee West Virginia’s entire offensive line.
Wickline has three big holes to file in his front, but his cupboard isn’t completely bare. The leader of this group is senior guard Kyle Bosch, who has started every one of WVU’s 26 games over the past two seasons. The one-time Michigan Wolverine also started three games for UM as a true freshman in 2013 before transferring to West Virginia. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Bosch is by far West Virginia’s most experienced offensive lineman, but he’s not the only one who has starting duties on his resume.
Colton McKivitz was thrust into the lineup early in the 2016 opener when WVU’s starting left tackle Yodney Cajuste injured his knee on the first series against Youngstown State. Cajuste would miss the rest of the season, but McKivitz’s performance in that opener earned him nine starts before the season was over. Lazard also started six games, four at right tackle and two at left. But with Cajuste, who will be a junior, returning to health and his starting left tackle job, and McKivitz, a 6-foot-7, 310-pound sophomore, seemingly locked in as the starting right tackle, Lazard decided to seek playing time elsewhere during his final season of college eligibility.
With Cajuste and McKivitz set for the starting tackle spots, and Lazard gone, the challenge for Wickline at the edge positions will be to find quality backups. Redshirt freshman Josh Sills appears to be setting himself to be high on that depth chart. Though the 6-foot-6, 320-pounder from Byesville, Ohio, hasn’t yet seen any college action, Wickline spoke highly of him this spring. Sills can play either tackle position and also slide into guard if necessary. Rob Dowdy and Ja’Shaun Seider are a pair of sophomores who also have the versatility to play multiple positions. Seider (6-2, 306 lbs.), whose older brother Ja’Juan was WVU’s running back coach before leaving this past offseason take a job at Florida, can play tackle, guard or center. Dowdy saw game action last year at tight end in short-yardage situations, but the primary position for the 6-foot-4, 299-pounder is normally tackle or guard.
Besides Seider and Dowdy, newcomer Kelby Wickline can also play a variety of offensive line spots. The 6-foot-4, 281-pound Kelby is the son of West Virginia’s o-line coach. He started his college career at Texas San Antonio, transferred to Jones County (Miss.) Junior College last year and then made the move to WVU this past January. Though he also can play center if necessary, it appears the younger Wickline will work mainly at guard and tackle.
The tackle position features a couple of veteran starters and then a bunch of more inexperienced players jockeying for the backup spots. The two guard slots are the same. Bosch returns as a starter at guard, though even his position has change slightly. After starting at right guard for the past two seasons, he was moved over to the left guard this spring and will likely hold down that starting job this coming year.
A fifth-year senior from St. Charles, Ill., Bosch tweaked his knee during this past April’s spring game, but he’s expected to be fine by the time preseason camp starts in August. Beside Bosch’s on-field performance, he’s also expected to step up his leadership duties, taking over a chore that Orlosky performed so well the last couple of years.
With Bosch on the left side now, the starting right guard spot figures to be another fifth-year senior, Grant Lingafelter. Though the 6-foot-6, 303-pound Lingafelter has not started a game in his four previous seasons at WVU, he seen plenty of action in that time, playing in a total of 23 contests. That’s more than all but four other Mountaineer offensive players – Bosch (26), fullback Elijah Wellman (38) and receivers Gary Jennings (26) and Jovon Durante (25).
Bosch and Lingafelter are almost certainly WVU’s starters at the guard positions, but just like at tackle, the backup spots are still very much up in the air. Seider, Dowdy and Wickline are all in contention for No. 2 roles, but so are a pair of converted defensive linemen – Alec Shriner and Chase Behrndt.
A 6-foot-4, 306-pound third-year sophomore, Shriner came to WVU as a two-way lineman from Oviedo, Fla., but he spent his first two seasons with the Mountaineers at nose guard. He didn’t see any game action, though, and was moved over to offense this past spring. Behrndt, a 6-foot-3, 307-pound redshirt freshman from Wildwood, Mo., was recruited with the idea that he would be an offensive linemen. But when West Virginia had severe depth issues at nose guard last fall, Behrndt, a former high school wrestler, was moved over to defense for the season. WVU got through the 2017 campaign without having to use Behrndt in a game, thus redshirting him. He switched back to offensive guard this spring, and now is competing for a spot on the two-deep, along with Shriner, Dowdy, Seider and Wickline.
West Virginia’s projected starters at the guard and tackle positions all have a good bit of game experience. That won’t be the case at center, where the Mountaineers have to replace the rock-solid Orlosky, who was a first-team all-Big 12 selection last year.
The expected replacement for Orlosky in the middle of WVU’s offensive line is redshirt sophomore Matt Jones. A highly-regard recruit coming out of prep power Hubbard (Ohio) High School a couple years ago, Jones redshirted as a true freshman in 2015 and then saw duty in only one game (Iowa State) last year.
“Matt has got a good build for center,” Wickline said of the 6-foot-3, 319-pound sophomore. “He’s stout and strong. He knows the game, and he has a really good snap. Anytime you play center, it’s all about making calls and getting into a rhythm with a quarterback and identifying fronts. It’s a process, so it’s not going to come overnight. But I think Matt has done a nice job developing. I think he’s ready to take over.”
Jones may be ready to take over for Orlosky, but the backup behind the new starter is still a question. Redshirt freshman Jacob Buccigrossi and junior Ray Raulerson were competing for the No. 2 center spot in the spring, but then Buccigrossi suffered a knee injury. That left Raulerson, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound transfer from Tennessee, as the likely backup. But there is hope that Buccigrossi will mend by the time the season starts, and thus provide competition for that backup job.
West Virginia will add two additional scholarship offensive linemen this summer – juco transfer Isaiah Hardy and high schooler Tyler Thurmond of Buford, Ga. Both are likely to redshirt this coming season, and thus won’t probably battle for a depth chart slot until 2018.
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