MORGANTOWN — If there is movement anywhere along the offensive line during a game prior to a snap, it is a penalty. When that movement comes during camp prior to the regular season, it’s a sign the coaching staff is not getting everything it desires from those players.
That is what the West Virginia University football team currently deals with. Some players are being moved around up front while first-year head coach Neal Brown and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Matt Moore figure out who and what works best for the Mountaineers in the trenches.
Prior to the start of preseason camp, WVU listed senior Colton McKivitz as the starter at left tackle, junior Mike Brown as the starter at left guard, junior Chase Berhndt as the starter as center, junior Josh Sills as the starter at right guard and senior Kelby Wickline as the starter at right tackle. As of Wednesday, that lineup has gone through some changes.
“We’re trying to shuffle our O-line,” Brown said. “We’re trying to figure out how we can get our best five players out there.
“I feel probably really good about four of those guys up front, and I’m not going to get into names, but I feel really good about four of those guys and we’ve got to find a fifth one. Who is going to be our five, six and seven?”
That means shuffling some names but also some positions along the line. Sills, an All-Big 12 pick last season, has been spending some time at center during recent practices, which means someone other than Sills is getting some time at right guard.
“We moved Sills around a good bit on Monday,” Brown said. “We weren’t real happy with what we got out of our center position in the scrimmage on Saturday, so we moved some people around. John Hughes is a guy who is making moves — we’re trying to get him more reps. Sills is a guy we feel is more versatile and we can play him at any spot really — center, guard or tackle.
“On Monday, we moved them around and had some positive results. Today, I think it was a little bit of a mixed bag, so I’ll have to watch the film.”
In addition to Hughes, Behrndt has played some guard as well as center during camp after serving as sort of a catch-all backup along the interior line last season. Former Martinsburg High standout Adam Stilley and James Gmiter are other names that have been mentioned as possibilities to see some playing time or even push for a starting job.
“We know who our top four guys are, all right, and we’re going to move those around,” Brown said. “We’ve got to figure out who our fifth guy is going to be, and who the fifth guy is going to be will determine where the other guys play.”
QB still TBA
Brown said Wednesday that the Mountaineers will have their second scrimmage of the preseason on Friday under the lights at Milan Puskar Stadium. The hope, he said, is for the quarterback race to become much clearer among graduate transfer Austin Kendall, redshirt junior Jack Allison and redshirt freshman Trey Lowe coming out of that scrimmage and going into next week when classes begin for the fall semester.
“Quarterback battle is still up in the air,” Brown said. “I think all three of those guys did some good things today, but they put us in some bad spots as far as taking sacks and turning the football over, so we’ve got to get better at that.
“I think this week is going to be a good indicator. Kind of how I do it, it’s broken down into segments, and when you get through a segment you usually scrimmage at the end of that segment to assess where we’re at. I’ll have the weekend to assess where we’re at, so hopefully coming out of that we’ll have a good idea.”
Reviews on graduate transfer punter Josh Growden, who arrived in Morgantown last Friday and joined the Mountaineers on Saturday, are starting to come in, and so far so good for the former Louisiana State Tiger.
“He has hit some balls,” Brown said. “I saw him in warmups and he’s the real deal. He’s got to get accustomed to what our punt looks like and the steps and all that kind of stuff. He’s really talented and he’s been really good. He’s eager. He’s been a fun guy to be around and he’s as good at kicking the ball inside the 10 as anybody I’ve been around.”
Growden kicking with his left foot is a bonus, Brown said.
“It is difficult to catch a left-footed punter unless you have one on your team because the trajectory of the ball and how the ball comes away from you is different,” Brown said. “It’s a positive to have the ability to have a right-footed [punter] and a left-footed. That adds some things to when you’re preparing from a punt return standpoint. It creates some issues because your blocks could come from either side.”
Brown also said the addition of Growden gives West Virginia more stability at holder as well, which in turn could help incumbent place-kicker Evan Staley.
“My expectations are really high for Evan,” Brown said. “My expectation is for him to make every kick, and he hasn’t made every kick, but I think he’s been solid. He has been really good at kickoffs and on field goals we’ve been working with a couple of different holders.
“That’s the other thing with Josh that nobody really talks about, but he was a three-year starting holder at LSU. He’s really kind of solidified that spot as well and that is something that went into our decision making. [Staley] has kicked better since he got with a consistent holder. I’m pleased with him, but can he do better? Yes.”
Something to consider
If you follow football long enough, you’re bound to hear a coach, at some point, remark about his team being tired of playing against itself.
That usually comes during spring ball or preseason camp, and while Brown didn’t specifically say those words, he did offer a suggestion Wednesday on how to combat that feeling.
“I wish we could do [organized team activities],” Brown said. “I’ve been watching the NFL Network at night, and they have those practices where — I saw the Bills and the Panthers and saw a picture of David [Sills] and Will [Grier] together — and they do those practices. I think at college, you should be able to do that. It doesn’t matter if it’s an FCS school or a Division II school, you should be able to come up and maybe it’s not a full scrimmage, but maybe you do a 7-on-7 period. Maybe you do a blitz pickup. You can do some team periods that are controlled where you’re not going against your own guys.
“To be honest, in college football, and if anybody tells you anything different I don’t know about it, because when you go against yourself every single day in the spring and every single day in fall camp, you don’t really know. If you don’t score on offense, is that because you’re really good on defense or really bad on offense? I don’t know. If you score every time is that because you’re really good on offense or really bad on defense? I don’t know.”