MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – One of the areas West Virginia’s football team will see the most turnover from 2019 to 2020 will be along the offensive line.
The Mountaineers graduated both starting tackles, Colton McKivitz and Kelby Wickline, after last season and lost guard Josh Sills in the transfer portal to Oklahoma State.
WVU head coach Neal Brown said the team will be relying on young players like redshirt freshmen Parker Moorer and Brandon Yates a lot this year.
“I think Parker Moorer and Brandon Yates, how they progress is going to be a huge factor for us offensively,” Brown said after the team’s first practice Thursday. “We need them, as a football team we need those guys to be able to either start or play a good bit.”
Moorer and Yates both redshirted as true freshmen in 2019, but Brown and offensive line coach Matt Moore had said there was a possibility either could have seen playing time near the end of the year. Neither ended up seeing the field, which Brown said he now thinks was the right decision.
“I think how we handled them last year was the right way. They’re much stronger than they were when they first got here.”
Brown said Moorer has been working at right tackle so far, along with junior John Hughes, who started at guard last season.
“Kind of out of necessity we played him at guard last year,” Brown explained. “He could do that again for us, but his natural fit’s at tackle. He’s another guy, I put him in there with Yates and Moorer, that we need to count on.”
At left tackle the team has been working Yates and redshirt sophomore Junior Uzebu.
“The guy that’s had a really good offseason,” Brown said of Uzebu. “He doesn’t get talked about but it’s really his time to show up and be the guy we think he can be.”
On the interior WVU returns guards Michael Brown and James Gmiter and centers Chase Behrndt and Briason Mays.
Brown said Gmiter, who switched from defensive to offensive line before last season, has make big strides this offseason.
“Gmitter’s a guy I’m excited about,” Brown said. “He started every game last year, but you have to remember he really didn’t play much offensive line. He’s a guy that’s had a really good offseason. He’s kind of developing into a leader in that room.”
West Virginia’s offensive line was not exactly a strength last season. The team finished last in the Big 12 in rushing with only 879 yards, but did a good job protecting the quarterback, giving up just 21 sacks, third-lowest in the conference. In an attempt to help the running game, Brown said they are going back to basics this season.
“We got a little gadget-y at the of the year, just trying to give us a chance,” Brown said. “We’ve got, basically, three run schemes that we’re going to try and master. Protection-wise we never ask them to do a whole lot and we were pretty good protection-wise last year.”