Football, Sports, WVU Sports

With plenty of returning experience, the time is now for WVU offensive line

MORGANTOWN — One of the many favorite pastimes during a college football off-season is to look at which starters are returning. In the world of the transfer portal, nothing is ever a guarantee, but for WVU, a quick glance at the offensive line says it should be a strength heading into this season.

All five starters are back, and not only that, but two are on several preseason All-American lists in Zach Frazier and Wyatt Milum.

The offensive line has been a steady work in progress since Neal Brown took over in 2019, but how this season’s edition is shaping up is finally where he wants it to be. And with that comes a lofty standard.

“Our expectations for our offensive line are extremely high this year,” Brown said. “This is the first year we go into — and this is probably the first time you have heard me say this — we have high expectations for them.

“That’s from the right tackle, to the center and all the way across. We have certain standards from a work ethic standpoint and certain standards from a production standpoint that are going to be met in that room. Right tackle is no different.”

With the most returners of any unit on the team, it is considered a strength, but that designation should come with an asterisk.

This is an offensive line that gave up a record number of sacks a year ago, while also being inconsistent in the running game. So what’s different that expectations are so high?

“Our chemistry is so much better than it was last year,” sophomore right guard Doug Nester said. “You can tell the room has changed a lot since I got here two winters ago. We’re all so close now. We worked so hard together through the off-season.”

Left guard James Gmiter echoed his line mate.

“Our confidence is night and day from last year,” he said. “You can just tell when we step out on the field. There’s no real doubt we’re going to get the job done.”

Another reason for an asterisk is while Brandon Yates was a starter last year, he is battling Ja’Quay Hubbard for the starting right tackle spot.

Yates started all 13 games last season at left tackle, but switched positions with Milum so Milum, a lefty, is on his natural side.

Still, Hubbard, who transferred from Virginia in 2020, continues to impress and has grown physically into a natural tackle.

“Ja’Quay has a little bit bigger body and has longer arms,” Nester said. “That shows in the pass game. Yates has faster feet and is that much quicker off the ball.”

Whatever the outcome, the Mountaineers will have a difficult challenge Week 1, taking on a Pitt defense that was third in the nation last season with 54 sacks. WVU was 111th in sacks allowed with 38.

But there’s more to that than what’s on the surface.

“I don’t necessarily think those stats are necessarily fair to that group of five that’s coming back,” Brown said. “With that being said, though, we have to be able to protect the passer better on third down, especially at the edge position to tackle.”

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