WVU football: Offensive line remains key concern
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Joe Madsen, Josh Jenkins and Jeff Braun have been at spring practice this year at West Virginia, but only as spectators who are as invested and interested as anyone else to see who will attempt to replace them as the team's starting center and guards in 2013.
One of the key aims for the 15 spring practices for Coach Dana Holgorsen and almost inarguably the most important one for new offensive line coach Ron Crook was to reconfigure the inside of the offensive line. The Mountaineers move on without Madsen's 50 career starts at center, Jenkins's 37 starts at left guard and Braun's 25 starts at left and right guard.
Tuesday wasn't a good day for the coaches, though. Holgorsen announced after practice that promising redshirt freshman Adam Pankey is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and versatile senior Pat Eger couldn't finish the first practice after spring break after injuring an ankle.
"We feel like we've got three guys at tackle, but we're getting by with the people we have inside," Holgorsen said. "They're all new."
The Mountaineers like senior Curtis Feigt at right tackle and junior Quinton Spain at left tackle and believe Nick Kindler can push one or both for a starting spot. There were more concerns at guard, but Pankey, who sat out last season after starring at Ohio's Hamilton High, was looking for a starting spot at left guard.
Coaches were content with his progression in the redshirt year and then the offseason before they witnessed more strides in the spring.
Holgorsen said Tuesday Pankey "may have been the best one" at either guard position.
"He was showing more improvement than any offensive lineman we have," Holgorsen said. "He's a big, 6-foot-5, 315-pound guy who was moving phenomenally."
Pankey had been trading off with Marquis Lucas, a sophomore from Miami who Holgorsen also complimented Tuesday.
Holgorsen wasn't sure of the extent of Eger's injury, but Eger missed about six weeks of the eight-week winter conditioning program after ankle surgery, and Holgorsen said he believed Eger injured the same ankle Tuesday.
Eger, from Jefferson Hills, Pa., has started at right tackle and guard, but can play either position on either side. He never played center before this spring, though Holgerson said he's improved with some useful help.
"Madsen was around for a couple days and kind of worked with Pat a little but with his snaps, which have drastically improved," Holgorsen said. "There were probably only 25 percent of snaps the first couple of days that were even fieldable, but that's what you expect when you move two guys to center who have never played center."
Eger had been practicing above redshirt freshman Tyler Orlosky, who last summer earned first-team snaps in preseason practice at right guard while Pankey was working at left guard.
Junior college transfer Stone Underwood arrives in the summer.
"It's recruiting, which means you try to make the best decision you possibly can and you really don't know what you get until they're here practicing," Holgorsen said. "We thought enough of Stone to recruit him as a center because we knew we were thin at the position with no returning center."
It depends on the nature of Eger's injury and WVU's reaction to it, but Orlosky could get a lengthy audition. WVU practices Thursday and has seven more times after that before the Gold-Blue Game April 20.
"You've got to have two or three centers on your team," Holgorsen said. "It's like the quarterback position. If you don't have two or three - really, if you have two - you get nervous. So, really, you need to have three guys who have snapped anyways. We're trying to develop two guys we feel good about and we'll add (Underwood) to the equation and let all three of them compete in the fall and make a decision."
* * *
DEFENSIVE END Korey Harris wasn't at Tuesday's practice. Holgorsen said the sophomore from St. Augustine, Fla., was suspended indefinitely. Holgorsen did not say why.
The 6-4, 250-pound Harris played sparingly in 11 games last season and had only four tackles.
* * *
THOUGH THE Mountaineers met Sunday upon returning to campus and then worked out on Monday, it was their first practice since March 19. The March 21 practice was cancelled because of poor weather and the university was off for spring break last week.
"Liked their attitude (Tuesday) and I liked their mentality," Holgorsen said. "I liked the way they worked, their energy, their excitement, so we played a lot of ball."
Holgorsen, who will try to make up the missed practice this weekend, said the week off and meetings among the coaches didn't change anything as far as planning or personnel for Tuesday's practice. He doesn't expect much to change because his team has so much to do before the spring game.
"We have to repeat everything and freshen up on things before we actually put them in a good bit of situations and start scrimmaging," he said. "I wouldn't anticipate scrimmaging probably until maybe one or two in the final five practices."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.