The Line on West Virginia's Offensive Line

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The Line on West Virginia's Offensive Line
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Bill Stewart has repeatedly pointed out that the same five linemen played almost every snap this year. That has often been mistaken as a positive proclamation to the state of the offensive line at WVU.

In a recent interview, Bill Stewart had the following to say about the offensive line: “We played five guys almost 800 plays. We graduated one senior and next year we have one senior that is a void. I do not know of any other college in America who loses one senior back-to-back. In 35 years I’ve never seen it.”

The lone graduating senior on the offensive line for 2009 was Selvish Capers.

The lone senior for 2010 that Stewart refers to is Eric Jobe.

Of the seven offensive linemen that WVU received letters of intent from in 2006 and 2007, only three were still on the roster at the end of the 2009 season. Of those three, two were starters—Eric Jobe from the 2006 class and Don Barclay from the 2007 class.

Another lineman that Stewart did not refer to was Greg Isdaner. Isdaner was a junior at the end of 2008. Isdaner chose to forgo his senior season in 2009 to enter the NFL draft early.

The recruiting class of 2008 showed two starters out of four commits in 2009, Josh Jenkins and Joey Madsen. One commit, Benji Kemoeatu, has yet to enroll at WVU. Grades have kept Benji from qualifying.

The 2009 recruiting class had five commits. Of those five, all remain on the WVU roster. None saw significant playing time.

WVU signed two offensive linemen to letters of intent for 2010, Quinton Spain and Marquis Wallace.

An accepted standard regarding offensive line play in college football is a team should have as few as eight or as many as ten lineman to rotate throughout a game. As evidenced by their contribution, WVU did not meet that standard for 2009.

There was a void along the offensive line. As with other positions on the WVU football team, depth was a major concern for the offensive line in 2009.

Depth will continue to provide an area of concern for the offensive line in 2010. With the additional time in WVU’s weight and condition program. Coupled with spring training, summer workouts, and fall practice the lineman on the roster will begin to fill that void.

In 2007, WVU’s offensive line was one of the best in all of college football. WVU’s offensive line was considered on the smaller side when compared nationally.

Rich Rodriguez’s offensive line philosophy was the zone-blocking scheme. Rich wanted athletic offensive linemen that could move in space and maintain a zone. Depending on the way a defense attacked, that scheme dictated the development of the play.

The zone blocking the offensive line provided helped WVU to become one of the best running teams in college football.

Two teams during the 2007 season showed how to stop WVU’s vaunted running game. South Florida and Pitt both defeated WVU that year. WVU was unable to run the football consistently in both games.

The better teams on WVU’s schedule had made the necessary defensive adjustments to help stop the WVU running game.

When Bill Stewart was hired he stated, “WVU can never be what it was that night.” Stewart was referencing the lack of physical play and predictability by the offensive in the loss to Pitt.

Stewart has not been as open about his philosophy of offensive line play as his predecessor. Still, reviewing the offensive linemen Stewart has recruited gives fans insight.

WVU is signing a much larger recruit to play offensive line than they did under Rodriguez. Beginning with the 2008 recruiting class recruits have averaged 6’4”, 292 lbs. Fans will remember that 2008 was Bill Stewarts first recruiting class.

The average size of recruits represents their size as incoming freshmen. Selvish Capers, this year’s lone graduating senior on the offensive line, was 6’5”, 249 lbs as an incoming freshman. The 2009 WVU roster listed Capers at 6’5”, 298 lbs.

With time in the weight and conditioning program at WVU these recruits will only get bigger. It is easy to draw the conclusion that Stewart wants his offensive line to average over 300lbs.

Bill Stewart appears to want a much more physical offensive line. Stewart’s apparent philosophy is to control the line of scrimmage with a huge offensive line, by any team’s standards.

The 2010 version of the WVU offensive line may be the largest WVU has ever fielded.

For 2009, the dominance WVU once maintained with its offensive line play had evaporated. WVU was rebuilding its offensive line in 2009.

The depth that was not evident in the 2009 version of WVU’s offensive line will be much improved in the 2010 version. Having only one senior as a starter equates to four returning starters along the offensive line.

The maturity and experience those four linemen received this year will pay dividends in the season to come.

The five recruits signed in the 2009 recruiting class have been in the system a full year when fall practice begins. Stewart will have the necessary numbers to provide depth for the future.

Championship teams dictate the flow of a game with their offensive line. The ability of those championship teams to control a game in the fourth quarter with the running game is what makes them champions.

For WVU to return to Big East Champions, the offensive line play must improve in 2010. Faith in Bill Stewart has not always been in large supply. Yet, faith must sustain WVU fans regarding the improvement the offensive line displays next season.

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