Second-year West Virginia University offensive line coach Ron Crook is beyond the point of getting to know his guys, setting the ground rules for them and figuring out what they can and cannot do.
This spring, it’s been about focusing on the finer points of their craft. He explains.
“This time last year I was trying to teach them new techniques. We had new terminology. I was learning new terminology and everyone was learning new things,” he said. “This year we know all of that. We know what is expected.”
Crook knows which guys can get mad easily, which guys can let things go and move on to the next play, which guys need a pat on the back or an arm around their shoulder, and which guys need to be encouraged a little more vigorously.
He also knows that everything can change pretty quickly when you’re dealing with a bunch of alpha males.
“They change,” he said. “What you had to yell and scream at a guy for last year, most of the time he’s corrected that. You have new things you need to focus on. I think you definitely get to know them a lot better, but a lot of that stuff changes over the course of a few years as well.”
Right now, the No. 1 group he’s working with includes a sophomore at center, a pair of seniors at guard, a sophomore at left tackle and a junior at right tackle – a mixed bag, for sure. After that he’s looking for two or three more reliable guys that he can count on by the time they hit the field again this fall.
“I hope by the end of spring we’ve at least identified seven or eight that we feel like coming into the fall are ready to help us,” Crook said. “You always have a surprise in the fall – someone over the summer that has made a lot of gains in the weight room and they come back out and they’re a lot stronger and they play a lot better. Wherever we’re at we hope to get one or two more of them ready come fall.”
Tyler Orlosky has been getting most of the work at center. Last year, Orlosky began the season as the team’s top snapper before losing his job to Pat Eger after the Oklahoma game. Crook says Orlosky has rebounded nicely.
“He’s playing physical. He’s playing tough,” said Crook. “The biggest thing he does is he takes a lot of pride of when he has a rough practice he’s in there watching the practice as soon as it’s done and he’s taking notes for himself on how he can improve.”
Lined up next to Orlosky are two proven guards in senior Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski. There are times when both have been so dominant in practice that head coach Dana Holgorsen wants to make sure they don’t become complacent because of it.
“There’s a significant difference between them and the guys behind them, so they just need to fight off complacency,” Holgorsen cautioned.
Crook says he likes where Glowinski is at mentally right now.
“The thing that he’s great at is seeing what a defense is doing before they do it, or as they are starting their movement and he’s able to anticipate it really well,” Crook said.
At the two tackle spots, sophomore Adam Pankey and junior Marquis Lucas are getting most of the reps with the ones. Junior college transfer Sylvester Townes is also getting plenty of work as the No. 3 tackle.
“The thing I always tell them is when we’re on the field we’re all about getting reps,” Crook said. “We’re not slowing things down. When we get in the meeting room we can slow things down. We can talk about one play for 20 minutes if we have to to make sure they understand it. That’s where most of the knowledge comes from.
“We’re definitely still in the small parts,” added Crook. “We’re going out every day trying to compete, play hard, trying to get better with our technique at our positions and there is a lot of stuff offensively that we’ve got to get cleaned up. But the thing we like is the guys are playing hard, they’re practicing hard and they’re having fun and enjoying it.”
- Right now Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski are clearly the top two offensive linemen for the Mountaineers, and Glowinski admits this spring has been dramatically different for him.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing at guard (last year),” he said. “I was learning a new technique, new steps and a new stance. Now I understand what’s going on. I have a year of experience.
“You’re not focused as much about what’s going on. You’re more focused about making good plays and getting good blocks downfield because you know what’s going on and you’re making your assignments.”
Adam Pankey, too, is making strides at the all-important blindside tackle spot and Holgorsen singled out his play before last Saturday’s practice in Charleston. Two years ago, Pankey was a coveted prep prospect because of his size, wingspan and athleticism playing basketball and running track in high school.
“I think we’ve got a lot of confidence in each other,” Pankey said. “We know we’ve still got time to grow. We like where we’re at now, but we know we’ve got to get a lot better in the future.”
Pankey said one of his goals this year is to be first team all-conference.
“I set the bar high,” he said. “I think anybody wants to be an all-conference player and that gives you something to shoot for.”
Considering how strong the Big 12 is going to be this year, that’s a pretty lofty goal, indeed.
- One of the dangers of open practices is having some onlookers form opinions and draw firm conclusions when they might not have a complete understanding of what’s trying to be accomplished.
Running backs coach JaJuan Seider: “People get caught up with what’s going on in the spring but we’re working on situations. When we’re backed up on the minus-2 (own two-yard line), if we get to the 25-yard line that’s a win for the offense,” Seider said. “We don’t care if we drive the whole length of the field. We just want to stress them and continue to see how they handle those situations.”
- The one thing you keep hearing over and over again from offensive players and assistant coaches alike is the improvement the defense is making under first-year defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
In the open practices we’ve seen so far, you can clearly detect a new attitude on that side of the ball – defenders are flying around and playing with a renewed sense of urgency.
Gibson has wisely simplified things a little bit to make sure his guys know what they are doing in order to play much faster. There were times last year when West Virginia was caught out of position or looking to the sidelines when the ball was snapped, especially in the Baylor game.
Some of that was a product of youth and inexperience, and some of that was a result of the Mountaineers trying to give multiple looks on defense.
“The fact that they’ve been kicking our butt a lot this spring says a lot about Gibby,” said Seider. “You talk to all of our kids on defense. They love playing for him. With defense it’s not so much about schemes – it’s about getting guys motivated to play for you.”
Seider is particularly impressed with the speed West Virginia has assembled on the defensive side of the ball.
“They’re getting there fast,” he said. “You can tell they like playing for the guy who is calling the plays. They have a lot of guys over there that played last year as freshmen and sophomores. We struggled with them last year, but they are seasoned and they know what they’re doing now.”
- Here is how much the game has changed in just the last 10, 15 years or so since offenses began playing at a much faster pace. In 1996, when West Virginia led the nation in total defense, the Mountaineers were defending on average about 62 offensive plays per game.
Today, that number has swelled to about 84 plays per game, which means an additional 20-22 plays per game and roughly 240 more plays per season that must be defended.
When you think about it, that’s like playing three additional games a year.
Also, don’t forget that the offensive guys know where they are going and can substitute fresh wide receivers and running backs on the fly. Defenses can substitute, too, but the amount of running that defensive players are required to do these days is off the charts.
And, keep in mind that special teams are mostly made up of the very same defensive guys who are out there running down those fleet wide receivers and running backs, so you better have a lot of depth on that side of the ball.
Well, guess where the Mountaineers struggled mightily with depth issues last year? That’s right, defense.
The pace of play has dramatically changed the game, and that’s why some defensive coaches have been so outspoken about slowing it down.
- The extended forecast looks like nice weather for this Saturday's Gold-Blue Spring game, presented by Kroger. Hope to see you out there.
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