By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Let us understand that considering the style of football West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen plays, the absolutely most critical, crucial item that must be accomplished by the time the football season begins on Aug. 31 is to come up with a quarterback who can run his offense.
That having been said, it doesn’t mean a thing if he turns Paul Millard or Ford Childress into a combination of Geno Smith, Pat White and Major Harris if he can’t put together a solid offensive line, which may actually be the first objective of the spring.
“Offensive line is the most important position on your team,” Holgorsen admitted. “I have said it for years. You have to get a bunch of good and capable guys just based on graduation, that is where all our issues are right now.”
Having lost center Joey Madsen and guards Jeff Braun and Josh Jenkins and having brought in a new offensive line coach in Ron Crook from Stanford, the work has been intensely approached with more to do than just learn the plays and techniques.
And, just to complicate matters, injuries have already taken away badly from what they were trying to do.
The key element in the line was moving Pat Eger from tackle to center — he also has played guard — and after a shaky start in which the exchange between center and quarterback was a misadventure at best he began to settle in nicely.
Then came an ankle injury, seemingly not serious enough to threaten his spring but enough to interrupt the work he was putting in.
“It is recruiting, which means we try and make the best decisions that we possibly can, but you really don’t know what you are going to get until they are here practicing,” Holgorsen said when asked about the newcomer. “We thought enough about Stone to recruit him as a center. We knew we were thin at that position. We had no returning center coming back. The three guys that snapped the ball in the fall are all gone.
“You got to have two to three centers on your team. It is like the quarterback position — if you have two, you get nervous so you really need to have three guys that can snap anyways. We are trying to develop two guys that we feel good about and will add him to the equation and add all three to compete in the fall, and then we will make a decision on who is one, two and three.”
While this internal battle goes on and while players fight it for the guard spots — all of them except Adam Pankey, who is out with knee surgery — Crook is involved in another area of putting together and offensive line and that is brotherhood.
On any football team, it seems that that closest knit group is the offensive line.
For whatever reason, partly because they like to eat a lot — honest — and partly because they often are among the top academic students on the team, they seem to hang together more as a group and that is something Crook is encouraging as he puts this group into a unit.
“They are developing into a strong, cohesive group. That’s critical with an offensive line. They are doing things together. They’re with each other all the time, constantly pushing each other, constantly looking after each and taking care of each other. That’s the biggest thing I like as a whole,” he said.
As they come together they also develop leadership and to date the leader has been returning starter Quentin Spain, a 335-pound mountain of man whose public persona was quiet last year as he learned the ropes but who is emerging as a force on the field and in the locker room.
“He is kind of the leader, kind of the guy who keeps things light a little bit,” Crook noted. “It’s always good to have one of those guys, but when it comes time to play, he’s ready to play.”
And Spain is going to be a good one. Rest assured you will see much of WVU’s running game being behind his big body.
“He likes to play physical, he’s focused. He comes off the ball low and hard and has a lot of strength in his punch,” Crook said.
At the other tackle there is a battle developing between a pair players who are different styles in Curtis Feigt and Nick Kindler, who has been pushing Feigt for the starting job.
“I hope one of the two of them fights for the job and wins it because they are the two rotating at the position right now,” Crook said. “They kind of play off each other. Nick is a really athletic guy and controls his body well and Curtis is a big, strong physical guy. They are improving on a regular basis. I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out.”
At the guards, it’s all new players like Mark Glowinski and Marquis Lucas, but losing Pankey hurt the depth because he was almost certain to be a starter.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.