There are not many centers in college football that check in at 6-foot-6 and 326 pounds, but it is safe to say “conventional” is not a word often used to describe Josh Sills.
Sills, a second-team All-Big 12 pick last season at guard, has been practicing at center this week after some shuffling among the group of offensive linemen expected to start for West Virginia University in 2019.
First-year WVU coach Neal Brown clearly was not pleased with junior Chase Behrndt’s performance at center early in camp. Brown singled out Behrndt following the Mountaineers’ scrimmage last week in Morgantown. Then, during his press conference this week on Wednesday, Brown said West Virginia had a good feel for who four of the five offensive linemen would be to start the season. He wouldn’t name names, but Behrndt was obviously the odd man out.
“I had Chase at center at the beginning of camp, but he kind of went into a slump there,” WVU offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Matt Moore said. “Too many high snaps. He went into the slump, so I moved him out and moved Sills over.”
To say Moore has been impressed with just how versatile Sills is might be an understatement.
“He can play baseball,” Moore said. “He can kick field goals. He can do everything.”
Sills was fine with the move. He just wants to play, he said.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ll play wherever they need me to – guard, tackle or center,’” Sills said. “Now I’ve played them all. I’m just happy to play, so I’ll play wherever they want me.”
Snapping the ball is not entirely new to Sills, but it has been awhile since he was asked to. His last action at center came during his sophomore year of high school in Ohio.
“I obviously have some things to learn, but much of it stays with you, especially when you did it for a couple years,” Sills said. “There wasn’t much I had to learn with snapping. Mainly, it was fundamentally a little different than other positions. You play with a square stance rather than a stagger, so it’s a little harder to step. The weight distribution can be a little different, and the fits are sometimes different depending on where guys are lined up.
“The hard part is blocking people; that’s what I think.”
The move is not necessarily intended to be a permanent one. Brown and Moore are experimenting with different lineups along the line and Sills at center is just one of several they have tried this week. Another part of that, a rather important one, is determining who the fifth offensive lineman will be if it is not Behrndt — which is not out of the question.
Sills and Behrndt are friends off the field in addition to being teammates on the field. The two share an apartment in Morgantown. Sills said despite the recent demotion, he still thinks Behrndt will be a very important player for the Mountaineers in 2019.
“I’ve just been positive with him,” Sills said. “He has to have the confidence. He belongs here, he can play here, and he can get the job done. If you see him in practice, you know he can play here. He knows himself that he can play here. It’s easy when you get taken out to get down on yourself. It’s tough, but you lean on the people around you and their supportive.
“He’s going to be a big key player for us.”
With seniors Colton McKivitz, a preseason All-Big 12 selection this season, and Kelby Wickline pretty much locked in at the tackle spots, Brown said the settling on a fifth player up front will go a long way toward determining which positions are manned by which players at the line’s interior positions. Redshirt junior Mike Brown has received positive reviews for his work at left guard during preseason camp and is the likely starter there. Sills, obviously, will have a starting job but his position will depend on who the fifth lineman ends up being.
Then, of course, there is the question of what kind of quality WVU has beyond those first five linemen.
Moore has expressed a desire to have at least eight offensive linemen he can trust. He said would like to have more than that, but the first-year WVU coordinator hopes he can get a solid group of linemen out of the players he has available.
“I try to have three right side players, three left side players and two centers,” Moore said. “I’m always going to travel three centers just in case. You don’t want to run out of somebody who can snap, you know?
“I’d like to find eight dudes that I know that I can work with all fall. Obviously I’d like to have 10, but I don’t think I’ve got that right now.”