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WVU’s Veteran Offensive Line Shines Heading Into Spring Game



Looking forward to WVU football’s Gold-Blue Spring Game on Saturday at 1 p.m., the roster has changed significantly from the end of the 2021 season.

A crucial cog in the wheel has remained constant, and it’s one of the keys to success come fall: the offensive line. The WVU roster returns all five of its 2022 starters: center Zach Frazier, guards James Gmiter and Doug Nester, and tackles Wyatt Milum and Brandon Yates.

Redshirt junior right tackle Brandon Yates has been sidelined due to injuries during the winter and spring sessions, so Mountaineer fans should expect to see Ja’Quay Hubbard in that slot instead, at least for the time being.

“Yates has played a lot,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “Yates has really had an unfortunate winter and spring. He’s had a couple injuries and he was out for a while during the winter. He missed a run of practices here with another injury. He came back, practiced on Thursday of last week… hopefully he’ll finish strong. He’s played a lot of football. He really has. Games seven through 12 of last year, I thought he played at a high level and did a nice job, especially the Texas game. The good news for him is that he’s played a lot of football. He’s got the summer session to get in shape and he’ll be ready in the fall.”

While the right tackle battle continues, the other four spots are solidified, barring injuries of their own. Freshman All-American, now-junior, Zach Frazier reprises his role at center. Around him are Gmiter, a redshirt senior; Nester, a redshirt junior; sophomore Milum, the youngster of the group and reigning Freshman All-American; and redshirt juniors Yates and Hubbard.

“Having an offensive line that’s played as many snaps as they’ve played, that’s good fun to be a part of,” WVU offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “Having that experienced offensive line that’s played a lot of games together and seen a lot of things has been really fun.”

Due to COVID-19 eligibility, Yates can play until 2024, while Gmiter and Nester can stay with the Mountaineers until 2023. This group has been working together all of last season, after Nester transferred from Virginia Tech, and combine for 107 college career games.

“Those guys are in their second, third year together up front.” running backs coach Chad Scott said. “I see chemistry. I see communication. Those guys out there, I was talking to Zach Frazier last week… The biggest thing is the chemistry and the trust between one another.”

Milum, the group’s latest addition after not starting the beginning of 2022, has made up for lost time with the group. He effectively beat out Parker Moorer for the spot, and Moorer transferred to East Carolina University in the off-season. Now with Milum intact, and if all goes to plan, the exact same group of offensive linemen that WVU fans will see today could stay together until 2023. Coming out of the group’s second-straight spring practice period, the emphasis is on communication. These are five to seven guys who have seen each other through thick and thin, mistakes and triumphs. At times, they’ve been the difference between a sack and a touchdown. At times, they’ve allowed the former. The room enters 2022’s Spring Game poised to showcase improvement in skill, strength, and collective movement.

“All of last season, we were together, so really it’s just communication,” Frazier said of reuniting the group of veterans. “We’ll see a front or whatever and we’ll kind of know, we’ll be on the same page without even speaking sometimes. It’s just little things like that that’s the chemistry between us.”

In his third season commanding the offense, and working with a totally new scheme under Harrell, Frazier doesn’t see a large difference in his job. While routes, play calls, and roles have shifted around him, he’s taken comfort in the stability that being at the core of the offense provides.

“I’d say that everyone up front is confident in how they’re playing and they’re not really worried about anyone else,” Frazier said. “We’re worried about making ourselves better and trying to take that next step.

“That’s the biggest part, I would say, of playing offensive line,” he said of commanding the offense’s pace. “You set the tone by running the ball. You run the ball in, you win games.”

Emphasis on pass protection and outside zone work is crucial with two primarily-passing quarterbacks, one of whom is left-handed. Harrell’s offenses develop quickly, but so do the onslaught of Big 12 defenses. This same offensive line allowed Jarret Doege to be sacked 35 times in 2021, an average of 2.6 sacks per game. Frazier says that the room has since cleaned up the spacing issues and are finally hitting a stride, allowing them to move and function as a unit. A new offense, which prioritizes collective movement and fundamentals, also plays to the offensive line’s strengths. Harrell’s offenses have succeeded not because of brute strength, but because of speed and football acuity. Get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands and the other 10 players on the field will back him up. Although the names of plays and routes have shifted, Frazier has watched Harrell place emphasis on scoring, however possible.

“That got me fired up,” Frazier said of the newly-implemented Graham Harrell offense. “When I heard that, I was excited, because at the end of the day, that’s what you want to do: put points on the board. It makes me want to play harder.”

“His thing is that we’re going to put points on the board and have fun, so I think it’s just a fun approach to it and that’s just how football should be,” Frazier said.

Even Frazier’s fellow offensive players have taken note of the group’s improvement.

“They’re dawgs,” running back Tony Mathis said. “They’ve grown a lot and I’m following them.”

Frazier, Gmiter, Nester, Milum, and Hubbard will show up and show out later today for Mountaineer Nation to see. Whether it’s Nicco Marchiol, Garrett Greene, or Will Crowder under center, fans should prepare for a new and improved offensive game plan.

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