Graham Harrell knows the value of an experienced offensive line, and in his first year at West Virginia, he has a luxury that football teams simply can’t buy.
WVU’s new offensive coordinator takes over an offense with five returning starters on the O-line, anchored by an All-American center in Zach Frazier. As a former quarterback and a fan of the game himself, Harrell knows well what a solid offensive line can do, no matter the level of football.
“Having an experienced offensive line is huge,” Harrell said. “If you look at the last two Super Bowl teams, they won Super Bowls basically because they had a good offensive and defensive line….If you can be great up front, it can cover up a lot of holes in a lot of positions.”
That value became apparent early in his first practices in the spring. Harrell spent the first three practices installing his new scheme, but his unit in the trenches made that process much easier.
“Day one, we were in outside zone and I expected it to be a disaster with no pads on, and we actually could hit some big runs, but a lot of that is because the offensive line has been playing together, they know what they’re doing together, they work together well and created some stuff for us,” he said.
Coincidentally, inside and outside zone were a focus point for the Mountaineers after some struggles in 2021. WVU’s loss to Baylor was a wake-up call for the O-line: WVU lost by 25 points to the Bears after gaining just 90 yards on the ground, in part due to ineffective zone run schemes.
Guard James Gmiter said the line sat down with each other to identify exactly where they struggled, and they identified that as an area in which to improve over the offseason.
“It was something we really worked on over the offseason, just trusting the footwork, just run off the ball,” Gmiter said. “Our new GA brought in a new drill that we really liked and I think it helped. We did that throughout the week, and it was a big difference. You can turn on the film even from the Kansas game and just now it looks a lot better.”
While the line gives confidence to Harrell, Harrell energizes his offensive line. The offensive coordinator impressed Gmiter the first time he met with the team, offering a different approach to the game.
“The first thing he told us when he got here is, ‘We’re gonna light it up,’ and I think that kind of rejuvenated our group because we have guys that want to score points, want to win games, and him reassuring that to us really put it in perspective that we can do it with him,” said Gmiter. “He was in Green Bay, he was a great quarterback….He’s intelligent, his football IQ is through the roof, and that’s what I think is going to make a great offensive coordinator in him.”