Small Move Is Big News For WVU’s Josh Sills
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Josh Sills settled his big body into one of the cushioned seats in WVU’s team room during Thursday’s interview session, and looked up to see a media horde thrusting microphones and cameras in his face.
Usually such attention is saved for quarterbacks and skilled players, but this time the junior offensive lineman was the focus of all the interest.
“You had to know this was coming,” one media member joked. “After all, you’re the story of the week.”
Sills just grinned and faced the inquisition.
What had the veteran from Sarahsville, Ohio, done to warrant the media onslaught?
Moved about four feet to his left.
Hey, it’s the second week of the Mountaineers’ preseason camp, and interesting story angles are hard to come by. So, Sills, a two-year starter at offensive guard, practicing at center this week became a dominant theme.
OK, it’s not exactly Woodward and Bernstein uncovering Watergate, but when you’re dying for news, sliding over one position is worthy of being splattered in 140-point headlines.
After some offensive line struggles on Saturday in the first full-scale scrimmage of camp, West Virginia’s coaches decided to look at a few different things.
“We’re trying to shuffle our o-line and get our best five players out there,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “We feel really good about four of those guys up front, and we have find our fifth.”
Sills has always been among those top five; now it’s just a matter of what position. Brown and offensive line coach Matt Moore asked the 6-foot-6, 326-pounder if he was willing to give center a try.
“I said OK. I’ll play wherever they need me to – guard, tackle or center,” stated Sills. “Now I’ve played them all. I’m just happy to play, so I’ll play wherever they want me.”
Though these are his first reps at center during his four years at West Virginia, Sills did play the position while a youngster at Meadowbrook High School.
“My freshman and sophomore years of high school,” answered Sills when asked the last time he played center. “I obviously have some things to learn, but much of it stays with you, especially when you did it for a couple years. And I’d joke with it when I went home or at practice.
“There wasn’t much I had to learn with snapping,” he explained. “Mainly it was fundamentally (center) is a little different than other positions. You play with a square stance rather than a stagger, so it’s a little harder to step. The weight distribution can be a little different, and the fits are sometimes different, depending on where guys are lined up. But really it’s just little things.
“The snapping has been OK. Really that’s the muscle memory; that’s the easy part of the job,” the agribusiness management major added. “The hard part is blocking people; that’s what I think.”
At this point, the move of Sills to center is still an experiment. He can always move back to guard if necessary.
“Coach Moore and Coach Brown haven’t set anything in stone yet,” said Sills. “They just want me to get some work there.”
While Sills’ position move is a part of the equation, the real battle for the fifth and final starting offensive line job appears as if it will come down to either Chase Behrndt or John Hughes.
According to the coaches, Colton McKivitz and Kelby Wickline are basically locked in as the first-team left and right tackle respectively with Mike Brown at left guard. Now the judgment has to be made, is WVU better with Behrndt at center and Sills at right guard or Sills at center and Hughes at right guard or maybe even Sills at center and Behrndt at right guard? They’ve got a couple weeks to figure that out before the Aug. 31 season opener.
Hughes arrived at West Virginia this past May after spending one year at Navarro (Texas) College. The 6-foot-5, 298-pound second-year sophomore has proved himself to be a quick study.
“He had a really, really good summer, and he’s had a good camp,” Sills said of the Carrollton, Texas, native. “He’s one of those people who makes a step every day. That’s always the main goal.”
As for Behrndt, Sills says his fellow junior can’t get down on himself after getting shuffled out of the starting lineup.
“I’ve just been positive with him. He has to have the confidence. He belongs here, he can play here, and he can get the job done,” Sills said of the 6-foot-4, 305-pounder from Wildwood, Missouri.
“If you see him in practice, you know he can play here,” Sills added of Behrndt. “He knows himself that he can play here. It’s easy when you get taken out to get down on yourself. It’s tough, but you lean on the people around you and their supportive.
“He’s going to be a big key player for us.”
As for the line as a whole, Sills admits it remains a work in progress.
“We still have a good ways to go,” admitted Sills, who was a second-team all-Big 12 selection last season. “We work every day to get better. It’s still mostly small things we need to work on, not big things. Just fundamentals – get your eyes in the right spot, take the right steps, where your hands fit. It’s nothing that’s out of reach. It’s all doable. I think we’ll have that down before the first game.”