Searching for a few good men
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- If Ron Crook is like a lot of other offensive line coaches, he will talk about the need to establish depth so that the five starting linemen he settles on won't have to carry the entire load.
He will say it's necessary so that the starters can be rested on occasion and still be fresh late in games.
Crook does say that.
On the other hand, if he's like a lot of other coaches, when the games begin and push comes to shove - literally, in the case of offensive linemen - the five he puts on the field to start the game will, save for the occasional injury, finish it and play almost every down in between.
Crook just smiles. He knows that's the norm a lot of times.
But he'd like to break that where this year's West Virginia's offensive line is concerned.
"I try to [rest them],'' Crook said. "I think my history has been trying to get guys on the field that deserve to be on the field. Not just to put them out there, but I think if a guy deserves to be on the field, we're going to give him that chance.''
Thus, Crook is looking for just a few more good men. He seems to have settled not necessarily on his starting five, but at least a core of seven or eight.
For now, just over two weeks before the opener against William & Mary, the starters are 6-foot-5, 335-pound junior tackle Quinton Spain and 6-4, 312-pound sophomore guard Marquis Lucas on the left side, 6-7, 314-pound senior tackle Curtis Feigt and 6-5, 305-pound junior guard Mark Glowinski on the right side and 6-4, 296-pound redshirt freshman center Tyler Orlosky in the middle.
The top two backups [and potentially still in the mix to start] are 6-6, 302-pound Pat Eger at virtually any position across the line and 6-6, 298-pound Nick Kindler, primarily at tackle. Both are fifth-year seniors, Eger having started 19 games during his career at tackle, guard and in last year's bowl game at center.
That's seven linemen in the pool and Crook would like to add at least one more. Tony Matteo is a 6-4, 296-pound redshirt freshman who is playing behind Orlosky at center, although Eger is a potential backup there, too. Crook also mentions 6-5, 312-pound redshirt freshman Russell Haughton-James. And he can't help but throw in injured Adam Pankey, if the 6-5, 323-pound redshirt freshman can recover from knee surgery in the spring.
"We're still hoping that when Pankey gets back, he'll be able to step in and help us out,'' Crook said.
Actually, if all of those players managed to work themselves into Crook's comfort zone as far as being ready to play, the first-year line coach might have to make some hard decisions about who not to play. That would be 10 and would form a nice, neat two-deep, but it might be too many.
"I don't think you ever want to have too many people because then you're cutting the reps of other people who need that work,'' Crook said. "You can try to get too many people ready.''
There is, of course, a down side to substituting at all and it's the reason line coaches tend to use their starters as iron men. Teamwork and cohesion is sometimes vastly underrated in offensive line play and it shouldn't be. Facing multiple fronts and a variety of creative blitz packages, offensive linemen have to communicate well, and that becomes harder when the members keep changing.
"That's why right now we're trying to move guys around and put them in with different people so they can work on that part of it,'' Crook said. "It's critical.''
In the end, though, subbing linemen and keeping them fresh as much as is practical is probably the best policy, so that's what Crook is pushing.
"I've been through some overtime games that have gone into three overtimes and you look at guys at the end of those games and they're exhausted. There's not much more they can do,'' said the former line coach at Stanford and Harvard. "To be able to save a guy maybe 15 snaps in a game makes him 15 snaps fresher.
"And over the course of a season, if you can do that for 12 games that's a big difference in the amount of hits the guy takes and the amount of reps he takes. I think it helps out in the long run.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.