There are high expectations among the Mountaineer faithful of their strong stable of running backs this season. Rushel Shell, Wendell Smallwood and Donte Thomas-Williams (with maybe a dash of Jacky Marcellus?) should combine to give West Virginia a potent ground punch, but things could stop before they even get started - literally - unless the WVU offensive line is effective.
The good news is that this O line is WVU's program writ small - in the past few years they've had good top-end talent, but never the depth to handle the rigors of a Big 12 schedule and they inevitably wither towards the end of the year. Sound familiar? The good news is that much like the rest of this 2015 squad, there is every indication to think the depth has finally been built to create a unit that will be as effective in December (January?) as it was in September - and perhaps even more so.
Starting at left tackle, the emergent 6'-5" 293 lb redshirt freshman Yodny Cajuste had by all accounts a spectacular spring and summer and has locked up a starting spot. Next to him junior guard Adam Pankey will provide a veteran presence, moving inside to the guard spot after starting all 13 games of 2014 at tackle (he lined up for 1,092 plays on offense - the most of any player on that side of the ball). The shift inside after his two years of experience at tackle has by all accounts been a success.
In the middle Tyler Orlosky will run the show from center, and if you read Mike Casazza's post on his 2015
depth chart All-Camp team, you couldn't help but get a little giddy:
C: Tyler Orlosky
This started over the summer when I first heard stories about how Orlosky was the strongest guy on the team and might leave here in two years as the best center the school has seen. Those are some serious plaudits. You’d spend more time convincing me either is wrong than you would convincing me either is right. He’s an ideal fit at center, a strong, stout technician who is firm with is feet and sound with his hands, and I was stunned fellow Big 12 centers were so eager to praise Orlosky. What people closer to him say and marvel about most is how he doesn’t mess up despite all the things he has to know and anticipate as the central nervous system of the offense. He’s in line for a big season and some major honors at the end.
Add to that his selection to the Rimington Award Watch list (although in all fairness he's one of 63 so it's far from a select group) and there's every reason to expect stellar play from a position many feel is the second most important on any offense.
On the other side senior Kyle Bosh, a transfer from Michigan, will start at right guard, with the all-important 5th year senior Marquis Lucas lining up next to him at right tackle, probably the thinnest spot on the WVU line.
Once you get past the front line of this Mountaineer squad, you're left with a lot of talent and promise, but maybe not quite as much experience as you'd like on the outside. Junior Tony Matteo, who saw action in 5 games and started one last year at left guard, is listed as the backup right guard but could probably spell a starter at either guard position. Senior backup center Stone Underwood is talented and should be able to spell Orlosky as necessary - but those opportunities will probably be few and far between.
The backup tackles have the least experience, with sophomore Grant Lingafelter on the left and unproven redshirt freshman Marcell Lazard on the right. Both have bright futures and are physically impressive at 6'-5" 304 and 6'-6" 310 respectively, but their lack of experience means WVU will need the starters there to be reliable.
Having said all that it's as deep a collection of talent as we've seen in a WVU offensive line for the last few years. I would fully expect everyone mentioned here to see at least some action and it could very well be the performance of a Lazard or Lingafelter when pressed into service that could be the difference in a close game.
WVU has big dreams this season, and whether or not those can be fulfilled will begin up front.