Meet the Mountaineers is a series previewing every position on West Virginia’s football team for 2020. Every day we will focus on a different position group and look at all the players we will see there in 2020. Last week we looked at head coach Neal Brown, the offensive coaching staff, quarterback, running back and wide receiver. Today we will start on the offensive line at tackle and tomorrow will be the interior linemen.
The most inexperienced position on West Virginia’s 2020 roster is, by far, offensive tackle and will be an area of emphasis for the Mountaineers prior to the start of the season.
Head coach Neal Brown and offensive line coach Matt Moore are going to need to start completely over at both tackle spots after graduating Colton McKivitz and Kelby Wickline following the 2019 season. Even worse, WVU does not return a single career start at either position.
The main factors at tackle in 2020 will be redshirt-sophomore Junior Uzebu and redshirt-freshmen Parker Moorer and Brandon Yates, none of whom have ever seen the field for WVU. To help alleviate the inexperience issue a little bit, Brown and Moore decided to move junior John Hughes from guard to tackle this Spring. Hughes started one game at guard last season.
The reason that Moorer, Yates and Uzebu have next to no playing experience is because both Brown and Moore have serious reservations about playing young linemen, potentially, before they are ready.
“You try to make an educated decision on whether they know what to do,” Moore said near the end of last season. “You’ve got to throw them in there at some point and let them go. They’ve got to make some mistakes. That’s the thing about it, you want them to be able to overcome those mistakes, but if they never make them, they’ll never overcome them.”
After the first team practice this Spring, Brown said holding them out all of last year looks to have been the right decision.
“Parker Moorer and Bandon Yates, how they progress is going to be a huge factor for us offensively,” Brown said. “I think how he handled them last year was the right way. They’re much stronger than they were when they first got here. As a football team, we need them to either start or play a good bit.”
WVU also brought in junior college recruit Tairiq Stewart from ASA College in Brooklyn. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Stewart has the size WVU’s staff looks for and has playing experience from his two years in junior college. The one negative against Stewart would be that he did not enroll early at WVU, meaning he could be behind some of the other guys when he gets to camp next month.
Colton McKivitz – Graduation, Drafted by San Francisco
Kelby Wickline – Graduation
Returning Players (2019 Stats):
Jr. John Hughes (1 Start)
R-Fr. Brandon Yates
R-Fr. Parker Moorer
R-So. Junior Uzebu
R-Fr. Donavan Beaver
R-Fr. Tyler Connolly
R-Fr. Nick Malone
Jr. Tairiq Stewart (ASA College)
R-Fr. Ja’Quay Hubbard (Virginia)
Both tackle spots will be up for grabs at the start of camp. From what Brown has said, it sounds like Hughes and Moorer will compete at right tackle with Uzebu and Yates at left tackle. Stewart should also be in the mix at either spot. One of the good things about having battles in camp is that whichever players lose these battles will still be quality backups for the winners.
Jr. John Hughes – RT
R-So. Junior Uzebu – LT
Offensive tackle might be the most up-in-the-air position on WVU’s roster so projecting starters is a little difficult. In the end, I do not believe that Brown and Moore would move Hughes out to tackle if they did not think he would start there. On the other side, Brown has talked very highly of Uzebu and the improvements he has made since last Fall. With Moore’s aversion to playing young linemen, I could see Uzebu’s one extra year of seniority putting him over the top compared to Moorer or Yates. That being said, Moorer and Yates will almost certainly see some playing time this year, starting or otherwise. I would also expect to see Stewart starting at some point in the season when the coaches feel he has caught up.
Virginia freshman Ja’Quay Hubbard has announced his transfer to West Virginia. Another underclassman, Hubbard brings some experience to WVU, playing in two games for the Cavaliers last season. If granted a waiver, Hubbard could very well be in the mix at either tackle spot this season.