May 31, 2016
The offensive line West Virginia will be putting out on the field this fall is a lot different than the ones we’ve been accustomed to seeing around here in the past.
For starters, you now have to look up at them, particularly the outside guys at tackle.
A few years ago, 6-foot-5-inch, 335-pound Quinton Spain appeared to be a mountain of a man on West Virginia’s offensive line – and he was, compared to the guys he was standing next to on the same side of the football.
The Mountaineers were typically running out 6-1, 6-2 or 6-3 centers, guards and sometimes even tackles – good, solid football players, but guys sometimes with shorter wingspans and occupying less space around them on the football field.
What that means is when your tackles are 6-5, 6-6 or 6-7 with long arms, at the very least it will take some time for the defender lined up on the other side to get around him.
If you look at the other teams in the Big 12 a guy as big as Quinton Spain is a dime a dozen in a league known for producing top-level offensive linemen.
Well, through a lot of hard work and a lot of time spent on the recruiting trail, the Mountaineers are now at the point where they can run out a Big 12-caliber offensive line, particularly this year’s collection of mountain men.
West Virginia now has nine offensive linemen standing at least 6-feet-5 inches or taller, and nine guys weighing 300 pounds or more. And two more 6-foot-6-inch guys, Meadowbrook (Ohio) High offensive tackle Josh Sills, and Tyler (Texas) Junior College standout Craig Smith, are on the way.
Six times last year Lazard saw action on at least 60 plays, including 84 snaps in the regular-season finale at Kansas State and a season-high 86 plays in the Cactus Bowl victory over Arizona State.
The more Lazard played, the better he performed and the more confident he became.
“(McKivitz) has done a great job,” Lazard, a soft-spoken Bloomfield, New Jersey resident, admitted earlier this spring. “For his age, he’s done very, very well and he’s pushing me every day to get better.”
For really the first time in Dana Holgorsen’s five seasons at West Virginia, he can now sit in the offensive meeting room with veteran offensive line coaches Ron Crook and Joe Wickline and discuss personnel options and alternatives there instead of trying to come up with solutions to problems.
Holgorsen said after the spring game at The Greenbrier that they now have six dependable offensive linemen with significant playing experience on whom they can count. What they are now looking for are luxury items such as additional tackles.
“Whether that is going to be someone who is on campus or a JUCO kid coming in, we need a third tackle,” Holgorsen said. “If we get a third tackle, that puts us at seven bodies that we can really count on.”
Lazard is planning on being one of the seven and having quality Big 12 game experience under his belt will help him tremendously when fall camp opens in August.
“My first game I was very nervous,” he admitted. “I was looking both ways really quickly, but now when I’m out there things are coming naturally to me.”
Lazard said getting those first few games on tape to watch were invaluable to his growth and development as an offensive lineman.
“It’s eye opening because you go out there and you’re saying ‘I did this and this’ and then you go back and watch it and you realize, ‘Man, I could have done a lot better on that play,’” he said. “It has helped me out, especially this spring on what I need to work on or if I’m watching something against a certain technique what do I need to do to get there (and make the block)?”
Lazard and the rest of the tackles are the beneficiaries of some additional expertise now that Wickline has come aboard to oversee the offense as offensive coordinator and coach the outside linemen, tight ends and fullbacks.
West Virginia has had things well taken care of on the inside for a while with the veteran Crook, and now with Wickline here to separate the tackles from the guards and the centers at specific times during practice, the entire group is benefitting from the extra attention.
“Ron has done a good job with (the guards and centers) and Coach Wickline came in and really solidified the pass protection stuff,” Holgorsen said. “We have some time to throw the ball and there was a lot of time last year when we didn’t have any. That is very comforting from a quarterback perspective.”
Lazard said the players have really noticed how well Crook and Wickline work together, and how everyone is benefitting from the new setup.
“They actually add a little something to each other,” Lazard said. “Coach Crook will be saying something and Coach Wickline will add something, or vice versa, so they work very well together.”
Lazard said what Wickline is bringing to the outside guys is not wholesale changes in technique or schemes, but rather subtle tips and suggestions that come with having more time to spend with them on a daily basis.
“We’re just trying to get our footwork down and get a little better at that,” he said. “Coach Wickline has mentioned some things that have really helped.”
Lazard said he continues to gain trust in his teammates and coaches every time he steps out on the field.
“That’s a big thing,” he noted. “You’ve got to be able to go out there and know what you’re doing, know your assignments, know who you’re supposed to block and go out there and do it.”