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Is the depth there?
West Virginia will see a decent amount of experience returning among its starters up front in 2014, but do the Mountaineers have the type of depth on the offensive line that will help it truly compete against Big 12 defensive lines this season? Some inexperienced players will be thrown into the fire early.
Interior strength Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski have the opportunity to emerge as one of the best guard tandems in the Big 12 this season. Both have received a good bit of praise from the coaching staff, and Spain has found himself on a few watch lists. The two should be good leaders for the O-line.
Center of attention Although he received plenty of playing time a year ago, it will be interesting to see how Tyler Orlosky continues to progress when he takes over for Pat Eger at the center position this season. Consistent play at center will be crucial for the way the line plays in 2014.
Like a lot of other positions on the West Virginia offense, the Mountaineer offensive line will be benefitting from a good level of continuity among its group of starters.
Although WVU lost the likes of players like Pat Eger, Curtis Feigt and Nick Kindler who made up three of the five spots up front by the end of the season, the Mountaineers bring back five experienced players who are hoping to continue improving to make this year a better season for West Virginia. And a big part of that process comes, simply, from gelling together and learning how to play well with one another.
“It’s always hard. There’s nothing about that that is ever easy,” said WVU offensive line coach Ron Crook. “When we get to this point, we’re all about getting things moving in the right direction and working to stay healthy and make improvements all across the board.”
The undoubted leaders of that offensive line are the two who line up at the guard spots, as seniors Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski are ready to take over and are set on becoming one of the most dominant guard duos in the country.
They’re certainly among some of the more experienced in the Big 12, as Spain enters his fifth season at WVU having played in 38 games in his career, starting 26 – and every game from the last two seasons. Glowinski emerged as a consistent guard in his first year of action at WVU. The former junior college transfer started all 12 games in 2013.
“We just work really well together and we understand each other,” Glowinski said. “We don’t talk smack or anything like that. We just go about our business and get the job done. We want to bring the best out of each other.”
Those two will serve as the anchors on a starting offensive line that includes a handful of others with plenty of experience. Tyler Orlosky started the first few games of the year at center before Eger settled into that spot. With another year under his belt, Orlosky has said he’s more ready than he’s ever been to step up and fill the role he’s needed in this season.
The tackle spots have been a little more of a concern, but it looks as if sophomore Adam Pankey, who missed parts of last season but worked his way back into the rotation after returning from an injury, and Marquis Lucas, who was a starter at guard but was moved out of the starting lineup last year in an effort to get more experience into the mix, have been the two to take over in those spots.
“I’m excited right now,” Pankey said. “When we committed, this is what we came here for, so we’re just ready to get after it.
“At tackle, you just have to be perfect and be on your game every time out there if you want to have a good game.”
But with the starters figured out, Crook still had a little more left to do as the Mountaineers need to find a group of two or three additional linemen who can step in and be in the rotation consistently when the starters need a break over the course of a game.
At this point, Michael Calicchio, Stone Underwood and Marcell Lazard have been among the ones who have shown that they could perhaps be the ones most ready to step in and contribute. The most important thing, according to Crook, is that players need to be able to play a lot of different spots and be versatile, but he can usually tell when a guy is ready for his chance to play.
“It’s about understanding what you’re getting from defenses when they give you certain looks and then being able to be consistent,” Crook said. “It’s one thing to have a good day, but then sometimes they take a step back because they slow down and start thinking too much. It’s about seeing them gradually pick up things naturally and continue progressing and staying consistent with everything.”
Crook admitted that finding consistency has started to come a little easier for the WVU O-line this year than it was in the past, and there’s a big reason for that. With the former Stanford assistant no longer new to the team, he’s been able to get to know his personnel for a full year, and they know him as well. Both sides understand what to look for, what they need to do and how to get the most out of each other. That relationship is going to be important in seeing improvements from last year to the 2014 season.
“You can’t find some of that stuff out just by sitting and talking to them when you first meet them in the office. You’re trying to get to know each other, but you don’t really know what goes on until they get on the field, and you don’t even know then until you see them in pads,” Crook said. “Now I know who these guys are, I know what makes them click, what they do well. And they know how I like to see them do things and the mentality we want to see out there. That’s a big advantage for us.”
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
1. Adam Pankey, Sophomore
2. Michael Calicchio, Senior
1. Quinton Spain, Senior
2. Stone Underwood, Junior
1. Tyler Orlosky, Sophomore
2. Tony Matteo, Sophomore
1. Mark Glowinski, Senior
2. Stone Underwood, Junior
1. Marquis Lucas, Junior
2. Marcell Lazard, Freshman
What they're saying
"I definitely feel a little bit of a sense of urgency. It motivates us as seniors because this is our team now, we have control of this locker room. We can make the best of it or we can do what we did last year again. This is our last year, we don't have the chance to look and say, 'Well, there's always next year.' This is it for us.”
- Senior guard Mark Glowinski
“We can be the best (guard duo) in the country. We have the same mindset, we have the same goals. We just put in the same work and get after it together to reach those goals we want to get to.”
- Senior guard Quinton Spain on WVU's guard tandem of Spain and Glowinski
Meet the newcomers
West Virginia expected six newcomers to join Ron Crook's crew for the 2014 campaign. However, due to the vagaries of recruiting, just two scholarship offerrees (Sylvester Townes and Amanii Brown) are on campus, and only one (Townes) was healthy enough to go through camp. Even with that experienced the junior college transfer will redshirt barring any strange happenings on the offensive line. He'll be joined there by Amanii Brown, who wasn't ready to go physically when camp opened on July 31, and will thus join Townes on the inactive list this year. Walk-on Jonathan Haynes, who has the height and wingspan that Crook loves, is also on the squad, but is certainly destined for a redshirt as well as he follows the learning path that most freshman must tread.
A redshirt is the typical garment for most freshmen on the offensive line, but it is also increasingly a fit for junior college transfers. Those players (Townes is one) still have a lot of adjusting and learning to do despite their greater age an physical development. West Virginia saw that happen most recently with Mark Glowinski, who did not play in his first year in the program in 2012. (Stone Underwood would have been in a similar situation had he not already used his redshirt in junior college.) That decision paid off handsomely for Glowinski, who has developed into a leader up front after participating in an offensive team-high 842 plays last year. While Townes probably could help a bit on the offensive line this year as a backup, his potential, and the extra year of development, are expected to make him an even better performer in 2015 and 2016.