MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It may seem like West Virginia University offensive line coach Joe Wickline is more like a Las Vegas card dealer than a football coach the way he has been shuffling his linemen around this spring, mixing them up and putting them down in different places, but he says there is a method to his madness.
Actually, he says there are a couple of methods to his madness.
“I make calculated decisions based on two or three things: No. 1, where can I get the best combination or the best five on the field in any given week?” he said. “Number two, if this guy gets hurt can I flip him from right tackle to left guard? The third thing I do is the day competition leaves your room is the day your room goes flat.”
Therefore, that’s why left guard Kyle Bosch
may occasionally line up at right guard, or right tackle Colton McKivitz
may go to left tackle, or Wickline’s son, Kelby, may play a little center.
Or maybe Wickline might completely shake things up and move Bosch out to tackle just because he can. It may or may not work but what Wickline is doing is creating versatility, creating additional depth and creating an overall better learning environment for all of his players to fully understand what the offense is trying to accomplish.
“If they play inside or outside, left or right, they end up associating with the (big picture) concepts having played all three positions,” Wickline explained. “Trust me, the ideal thing is this guy plays left guard, right guard or right tackle the entire five years he’s here. I get that. But with the numbers we’re at right now and the numbers we’ll be at, we’ve got to have guys play several places.”
Wickline’s room took a hit earlier this spring when promising backup center/guard Jacob Buccigrossi
went down with a knee injury during a Sunday practice. He was a guy who was developing well at both positions. Coach Dana Holgorsen said this afternoon he expects to have Buccigrossi back “by late August” if everything goes well.
“He was having a really nice spring,” Wickline said. “He can play guard or center and that’s a tough break, but it’s spring football. That’s the game we are in. It’s part of the deal. Next man up.”
Wickline also doesn’t have left tackle Yodny Cajuste
on a full-time basis yet because he’s still recovering from a knee injury he sustained against Missouri last year in the season opener. Cajuste is an athletic guy capable of getting his hands on those agile edge rushers the Big 12 is known for having.
Then, senior Marcell Lazard, a part-time starter last year and Cajuste’s backup at left tackle, opted to leave the program and finish his college career at Boston College.
However, Lazard’s loss has been mitigated somewhat by the rapid development of redshirt freshman Josh Sills
, a 6-foot-6-inch mountain of a man. Sills was part of last year’s signing class after earning Associated Press Division IV all-Ohio honors at Meadowbrook High in Byesville, Ohio.
“I think Josh Sills
is starting to come around,” Wickline said. “This is not a knock on where he came from or who coached him, but it seems like a lot of this stuff is new, but he’s a smart guy. He gets it, and he’s interested in being good.”
is another newcomer making big strides. He is coming off a tremendous season at Jones County (Mississippi) Junior College after spending one year at Texas-San Antonio where he redshirted.
Wickline earned juco all-region honors and one scouting service rated him the No. 8 junior college offensive tackle prospect in the country.
The Mountaineers beat out of host of schools for Wickline’s services last December.
“I think Kelby is getting better,” Wickline said. “We probably didn’t do him a whole lot of justice (by briefly moving him to center) but it’s not about him - it’s about the football team. So, let’s figure out where he needs to be to help the football team. We gave it a whack at center and he’s played some tackle, but we’re blessed at tackle so we want to utilize his talents and his abilities in an area where he can compete for a job at guard or wherever it is.”
McKivitz demonstrated last year that he is a quality Big 12 tackle capable of handling whatever is thrown his way. He earned third team freshman All-America honors from Athlon and also made Athlon’s freshman All-Big 12 team.
His consistency and reliability are his two biggest strengths right now.
“Colton has picked up where he’s left off,” Wickline said. “He’s a guy that’s been Steady Eddie. He’s very consistent and uneventful. He kind of does his deal.”
Wickline is working with two experienced guards in former Michigan transfer Kyle Bosch
and senior Grant Lingafelter
. Bosch is the elder statesman of the group and has a proven track record as an All-Big 12 caliber player.
Lingafelter is another experienced guy who continues to improve with each practice.
“We need to get all that he has to offer,” Wickline said of Lingafelter. “He’s been around and he’s played some ball. He’s a big guy and he cares. It’s his senior year and he cares about the Mountaineers. Kyle cares about the Mountaineers, too, so those are our two guards right now.”
Center is probably the biggest mystery, where standout Tyler Orlosky manned that position so capably for the last four years. The reason West Virginia’s offense ran so smoothly last season is because Orlosky performed like a guy who had played 50 career games.
Redshirt sophomore Matt Jones
is not close to being in Orlosky’s category just yet, but there is a lot to like about him.
The former four-star recruit from Hubbard, Ohio, has already drawn the praise of coach Dana Holgorsen earlier this spring for how smoothly things have run with Jones over the football.
He’s by no means a finished product, but he has a lot of ability and is actually a little bit bigger than Orlosky.
“A big piece of the puzzle on any football team is the center position and it’s going to continue to be that way because we haven’t arrived yet,” Wickline noted. “I think Matt Jones
has done a steady job and he’s a guy we think can snap, get the ball and he’s thick enough - he’s 315. And he’s athletic enough and strong enough, but he’s still got a lot of steps to take but he’ll be okay.”
As for another center to go along with Jones, that’s still to be determined with Buccigrossi now on the shelf. Holgorsen indicated Tuesday junior Ray Raulerson
from Tampa, Florida, has been getting a lot of backup work.
Wickline said he’s also looking for more younger guards and tackles to develop.
Overall, this year’s group is not overly deep but there are a lot of good qualities Wickline can work with before he puts his best five out on the field against Virginia Tech in the 2017 opener on Sunday, September 3.
“I think they’re a tough group,” he said. “I don’t think there is any question we have a high level of toughness. And I think they have a high level of interest in getting better, one for this reason and one for that reason - maybe one for making the travel squad, one for All-Big 12 and one for the NFL or for whatever reason it is.
“We just need guys - we need some more guys and we’ll be okay,” he said. “We need to knock on wood and stay healthy, and we need some young guys to grow up and take on different roles.”
And that means more guys Wickline can shuffle around and put back down in different places, no matter whether he’s dealing from the top or the bottom of the deck.