(Matt Moore press conference)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When Neal Brown stepped up to the microphones at Big 12 Media Days in Arlington, Texas last month, one of the main reasons for optimism he gave about his fifth team at WVU was the amount of starts made by returning offensive linemen.
Fairmont Senior graduate Zach Frazier and Spring Valley graduates Wyatt Milum and Doug Nester have multiple years of starting experience at WVU. Ja’Quay Hubbard made eleven starts in 2022 and Tomas Rimac started the final five games last year as a redshirt freshman. Brandon Yates was an every-game starter in 2021.
With experienced veterans at each position across West Virginia’s offensive front, offensive line coach Matt Moore says his teaching has progressed beyond entry-level material.
“You don’t start at a level 100 class,” Moore said. “When they first come to class, we are now at 300-level classes for a lot of these guys when we are talking about, instead of just — What is the front? Who is the mic? — We are talking about linebacker leverage. We are talking about D-Line stances. We are talking about having a heavy shade, having a light shade. Me and my assistants try to continue to build these guys that are on these 300-level classes and try to continue them to the Masters-level class to help them be as good a player as they can be.”
Hubbard and Yates appear to be locked in a battle for the starting spot at right guard. Both players have seen snaps at other positions throughout the offseason.
Nester is making the move from guard to right tackle. Throughout the spring, Nester received some snaps at center and guard. Moore says he showed professional potential by being able to play multiple spots on the line.
“He played tackle early on at that other school down there [Virginia Tech]. He did a great job. We needed him at guard and he did a great job at guard. That’s what I sell these guys on. He can play center. He can go in and he played a bunch of center in the spring. He is selling himself as a guy that’s a fifth-year senior and is going to be an all-conference player at tackle. He has been an all-conference player at guard. And he’ll be able to play center. He is selling himself at the next level as that.”
Rimac has played in 14 games over two seasons at WVU.
“Being a redshirt sophomore, he is still a pretty young player. But he can move around. He can play tackle also if I need him.”
Along with Nester, Frazier and Milum may have the best immediate potential at the professional level. Moore says both can make improvements in different ways.
“[Frazier] is really good at manipulating people with torquing because he has the wrestler in him. He has survived on that. To be where we want him to be at the end of the season to have a chance to reach the goals that he’s got, he’s got to start knocking people backwards. And he’s got to start getting vertical movement off the ball.”
“Wyatt just has to continue to grow. He is not blessed with Zach’s strength. That’s something in the offseason he has really worked hard at is changing his body and getting stronger. He has lived off athleticism. Now he has to put those together. He has gotten way better at his hands and his striking on his pass pro.”
Along with Morgantown High School graduate Nick Malone, Spring Valley alumnus Bryce Biggs is penciled in as a top backup on the left side of the line. Biggs is in his third season and is the backup to Rimac at left guard.
“He is showing that he can go in and maybe be a guy that can get us out of a game. I am really proud of how hard he is working and how he is developing his body and developing as a player and starting to understand how to play the game.”
Outside of the loss of James Gmiter, who retired from football in the offseason, WVU’s offensive line returns almost completely intact. With the continuity comes increased expectations to be met.
“They are a tight-knit group. They care for each other. They’ve got a brotherhood. You build that and they hold each other accountable. So it is not quite as easy just to jump on the next train or the next offer or whatever that they got. Because I am sure with the world the way it is now, I am sure they all got phone calls in the offseason and offers.
“If we are going to double-team the three-technique, we expect movement. We don’t hope for it like we have done in the past. We expect them to do things the right way and expect them to win one-on-one battles. We expect all five of them to win one-on-one battles. That’s come a long way since my first couple years here.”
The best test for WVU’s offensive line could come in their first game at Penn State, against a Nittany Lion defensive front that boasts veteran players that started in the Rose Bowl eight months ago.
“You’ve got to go up there against a Top 3 defense in the nation in game one. There’s no better way to find out if you are going to be dominant or not.
“We’re going to see if we are what we say we are.”