It has been a weekend of firsts for the West Virginia football team. Friday and Saturday were the first two full-team practices, they were the first time the players were really being physical and it was the first time head coach Neal Brown could truly evaluate his offensive linemen.
“The evaluations for them basically started yesterday and they’ll go from now, really until a week from Tuesday,” Brown told reporters on Zoom after Saturday’s practice. “That’s how we’ll go about evaluating and establish a two-deep.”
WVU’s offensive line had a rough 2019 season. Pass protection was mostly good throughout the year, but injuries to interior linemen lead to near-constant lineup changes and a dreadful running game. On top of last season’s struggles, the team will also have to replace three starters from the beginning of last season, tackles Kelby Wickline and Colton McKivitz, who both graduated, and guard Josh Sills, who missed most of the season and then transferred to Oklahoma State.
Brown said his early impressions are that the linemen have improved from last season, but the team will most likely have to rely on some newcomers this season.
“I do think the offensive line is continuing to progress. By no means have we arrived, but we are getting better,” Brown said. “My estimation is there’s going to be some young guys, some transfers and some junior college guys that are going to be on that two-deep for sure.”
West Virginia brought in a number of new offensive linemen for this season, but it was some of the returners that have caught Brown’s eye so far.
“I think the middle of our offensive line is getting better, they’ve been more consistent, and they should be,” Brown said. “(James) Gmiter’s played all last year, Chase (Behrndt) has played for a couple years now, Mike Brown played a lot last year, Briason Mays has been a guy that’s played a lot of football here last year. So we should continue to make improvements and we should continue to get better, and we have been.”
Behrndt and Mays split time at center last season, although Mays struggled at times. Mike Brown and Gmiter were the team’s primary guards for nearly the entire year. Brown also mentioned that junior John Hughes, who is making the transition from guard to tackle, has had a good week of practice.