With a trio of seniors anchoring the 2012 line interior in center Joe Madsen, left guard Jeff Braun and right guard Josh Jenkins (126 starts between them) Mountaineer fans knew change was in the offing for 2013. When Madsen elected to forgo some fall studying and with it start 127 when by being ruled academically ineligible for the team's Pinstripe Bowl against the Syracuse Orange, that change happened a game earlier than anyone was ready for and the results weren't pretty.
With a few more months and some fresh blood, however, hopes are high that this unit can re-build and provide the foundation for Dana Holgorsen's high-powered offense to recover the record-setting pace it set in the first half of 2012. There's a lot of talent but not a lot of experience. There also seems to be some depth which Holgorsen spoke to last week: "we are playing about 10 bodies on the offensive line, and it would be 11 if we had Adam Pankey, but he is a ways away." Can this unit anchor a Mountaineer resurgence in a Big 12 that will be anyone's for the taking?
Change starts at the top where new offensive line coach Ron Crook was hired away from Standford where he'd spent the last two seasons coaching tight ends and offensive tackles. Anyone who's seen Standford play lately knows that's a program that has plenty to teach about line play, so while the pace is worlds apart from WVU, the hope is that Crook can bring a little power with him from out west. That trip to the Left Coast aside, however, this is a guy with strong ties to the area. Born in Parkersburg, WV he's spent time at Glenville State, West Liberty, Cincinnati, WV Tech and Harvard.
As we said, the interior will be a complete re-build, and some pieces aren't who you would have expected at the end of last year. The biggest surprise might be that 2012 All Big 12 Honorable Mention Pat Eger, (6'-6", 302 lbs.) who started 7 games last year (6 at RT and 1 at RG) may not be in the starting lineup when the 'eers take the field on August 31st. After starting the spring as the leading candidate for the center spot, Eger suffered an ankle injury and has been slowed enough that he lost not just that center spot but even the right tackle position that he held for half of last year.
It's emergent redshirt freshman Tyler Orlosky (6'-4", 296 lbs.) who seems to have secured a role as the man in the middle. It's a bit of a change for a guy who took snaps mostly at guard during his redshirt year, but he seems to be adjusting. Oddly enough it's another redshirt freshman who seems to have secured the backup role in Tony Matteo (6'-4", 296 lbs.). In the short term this much youth at such a key position will almost certainly be cause for early growing pains, but should also pay dividends for years to come by securing the spot long-term.
On either side of Orlosky it seems sophomore Marquis Lucas (6'-4", 312 lbs.) on the left and junior Mark Glowinski (6'-5", 305 lbs.) on the right will be filling the voids left by Braun and Jenkins. Glowinski transferred from a junior college in Scranton, Pa and Lucas in particular is a guy who's taken advantage of a fresh start with a new position coach as he grabbed Crook's attention when fall camp began. "You can tell with his approach, mentally and physically, and with the gains he's made over the summer. He's had a great work ethic all year. He's definitely a guy we're expecting big things out of this year."
Backing up those two are Eger and Stone Underwood (6'-4", 285), a JUCO transfer who could have a very bright future as well as be a versatile tool to build depth - he played center in high school and JUCO - famously snapping with his off hand as a prep star in a game after breaking his primary hand.
Moving away from the middle there's some more familiarity along the Mountaineer line. Junior Quinton Spain (6'-5", 335 lbs.) and his 15 career starts (including all 13 last year at LT) has a lock on the left tackle spot and senior Curtis Feigt (6'-7", 314 lbs.) with his 7 starts appears to be the man on the right. Spain was 2nd along the line last year with knockdowns (57.5) and impressed Holgorsen enough with his offseason regimen that the coach selected him as one of 3 Mountaineers to make the trip to Big 12 media days.
Beyond this first unit Nick Kindler (6'-6", 298 lbs.) gives some good experience after seeing time at left tackle in every game last year and making one start (Kansas State, but we won't hold that against him). He has seen time in the fall and spring at both tackle spots and could provide relief at either one. Mike Calicchio (6'-10", 317) is an imposing walk-on presence as a redshirt junior tackle. Whether or not he's shown enough to earn any meaningful playing time remains to be seen, but if he ever grows into that huge frame he could be dominant. True freshman Marcus Lazard was a good get on signing day (he was also offered by Michigan, Miami and Florida) but shouldn't figure much in the mix this year - although it's worth noting he will NOT be redshirted..
It will be an interesting test for a unit that won't get much time to grow into itself before facing a tall test on the road at Oklahoma. Staring across the sideline at their former leader Bill Bedenbaugh will be the least of their worries as they face an Oklahoma defense that is always stocked with tons of talent. If they can pass that trial by fire, the unit could come together to pave the way for success. If not, we might all be in for a very long season.