MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia is two days away from opening the season against No. 2 Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game (3:30 p.m., ABC), but offensive line coach Ron Crook is still coming up with a plan for the Georgia Dome.
Crook, set to begin his second season with the Mountaineers, has known his five starters since the end of spring practice, but hasn’t figured out what to do with his backups.
“I’m hoping we can get there before we leave,” Crook said. “I’m hoping (today) I can sit down and be able to say, ‘Here’s my plan. Here’s how we’re going to do it.’ ”
Crook will start sophomore Adam Pankey and junior Marquis Lucas at left and right tackle. Lucas has started four times in his career, each at guard, and Pankey has never started and only played seven games. Quinton Spain (26 starts) and Mark Glowinski (12 starts) will start at left and right guard and Tyler Orlosky (11 games, three starts) will start at center.
On a list of five backups only Mike Calicchio, a fifth-year senior recently put on scholarship, has ever played in a game. The backup tackle was part of the shield in front of the punter on the punt team in all 12 games last season and played a handful of snaps on the offensive line. Backup tackle Marcel Lazard, backup guards Stone Underwood and Grant Lingafelter and backup center Tony Matteo have never played — though Underwood redshirted his freshman season at Southeastern Louisiana in 2011 and started 12 games as the center in 2012 at Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College.
Crook said typically he’s identified his backups and determined a rotation by now, but isn’t discouraged by what’s happening.
“I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “It means we have more guys fighting to get those reps.”
Ideally, he’d find players who can spell the starters for about 20 plays. He doesn’t want to use more than three players off the bench.
“Usually eight (total) is what I shoot for,” he said. “Generally, if you start using nine or 10, then the guys that would get those 20 reps, their reps get cut down.”
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ALABAMA IS quite an introduction for Crook’s new starters and new players because Alabama’s defensive line is oftentimes its defensive identity. It’s also easy to identify what that group does on defense. There isn’t a lot of twisting or stunting up front. It’s mostly speed and muscle moving forward, and the constant attack is powered by a rotation of talented recruits and returning players.
This is not what the Mountaineers will see for much of the rest of the season.
“I think it’s a little bit different, especially after going against some of the stuff we see in preseason camp where guys are coming from everywhere,” Crook said. “I don’t know if you teach it any different. You just say, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re going to get and here’s what we have to do to have success.’”
Since it’s simplified and not as diverse as some other tactics WVU will see during the season, or has seen in practice, Crook said it’s not difficult to talk about when preparing his players. That’s as easy as it gets, though.
“It is easier to see what’s going to happen, but I’ll say it again: There’s nothing about playing that team that’s going to be easy,” Crook said.
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NO ONE on WVU’s roster or its coaching staff has a more intimate connection to Alabama than quarterback Clint Trickett. His father and older brother have worked with Alabama coach Nick Saban and the families have grown to become close through the years.
Quite close, in fact.
“His daughter was my first kiss back in the day,” an immediately regretful Trickett said Tuesday. “I don’t know if I should have said that.”
He tried to move the conversation forward, first calling Saban “one of the greatest there is” and later “one of the best coaches out there,” while highlighting a strong relationship between the families. When the topic was ready to change, Trickett carefully backtracked.
“For clarification, we were like six years old,” he said. “Just so everyone knows that.”
Trickett’s father, Rick, worked with Saban on the WVU staff in 1978-79 and was Saban’s offensive line coach in 2000 when Saban was the head coach at LSU. Clint’s older brother Travis was a graduate assistant in 2007, Saban’s first season at the Capstone.
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RICK TRICKETT was Auburn’s line coach from 1993-98 and his son would grow up getting to know the annual Iron Bowl against the Crimson Tide.
“It feels big because it is,” said Clint, who’s been in the Georgia Dome many times before as a patron and player. “The people are all about it. They care about it because it means a lot to them and because they’re good at it. Auburn and Alabama are two damn good football teams.”
Naturally, he grew up partial to one team over the other.
“Not a lot of people know it, but out of high school, I was a huge Alabama fan — well, not out of high school,” he said. “My sophomore and junior year at North Florida Christian, we had a wide receiver who was committed to Alabama, so I went up with him all the time on his visits.”
Melvin Ray signed with Alabama in 2008, but ended up being drafted in the 33rd round of the Major League Baseball draft and playing in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. He eventually enrolled at Alabama, but transferred to Auburn and sat out the 2012 season. Ray caught five passes for 108 yards and a touchdown in last season’s national championship game loss to Florida State, where Rick Trickett is the offensive line coach.
“Weird deal,” Clint said.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.