MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Offensive line coach Matt Moore is convinced he has two starting centers at his disposal.
Of course, junior Zach Frazier – a preseason All-American – is considered to be one of the best centers in the country. But should the unthinkable happen, Moore believes Frazier’s (literal) right-hand man would be a more-than-serviceable replacement.
“Brandon Yates, he can be a starting center,” Moore said over the summer. “[He] really showed me that hey, he’s a good inside player. When I moved him inside, he did some things and started playing with some physicality that he didn’t when he was on the edge because he was always worried about getting run around.”
Yates could be the most versatile player on the WVU offensive line. He appeared in over 30 games in his first three seasons in Morgantown playing left and right tackle. This year, he’s made the transition to the team’s full-time right guard, winning the position battle over redshirt junior Ja’Quay Hubbard. Against Duquesne, he filled in as the second-team center in the second half after starting at right guard.
“I’ve been preparing since spring, doing some center reps when Zach was out [with an injury],” he said. “So I was doing that. A lot of 1-on-1s and good vs. good, so it’s just those reps. I was confident in my reps.”
“Practice is way harder than the games,” he added. “So I went out there, I knew I had the reps. I had the experience at that point. It’s just going out there and execute.”
A common misconception in football is that each line of the depth chart is its own platoon with each having a unique set of players. That’s not necessarily always the case. Some coaches like to fill their second-string offense or defense with players who typically start at another position.
Yates is a prime example.
“We’re really trying to build that depth with quality players,” Moore said. “Second-level guys aren’t all guys that are just second-team guys. A lot of the first-team guys know a secondary position.”
Though they are both on the interior of the offensive line, the center position has a few more moving parts than guard does. The center sets the pace and tone of each play.
“[It’s about] getting the calls to everybody, and understanding my footwork and things like that,” Yates said. “And also adding a snap on top of that. [There is] kind of the added pressure because you have to touch the ball first. If [I] mess up, then I mess up the whole play.”
With a long-term position change came the realization that he needed to change his body type. Where tackles tend to have leaner frames in order to maximize their length, guards and centers are typically bulkier.
Simply put, interior defenders are sturdier than edge rushers.
“When I was at tackle, I was a little [bit] smaller,” Yates said. “I was like 290-295 [pounds] when I was playing tackle. Now I’m sitting around 310. A little more stronger, a little more solid…You’re not much on an island anymore, but you do have a little more power. So there’s a lot of things. There’s a lot more anchoring-down and being a little more solid inside.”
Will he reach draft-prospect status like Frazier has? Yates has 10 more games this season, and another year of eligibility next year to answer that question.
His resume and versatility certainly don’t hurt his case.
“I think I’m valuable any place on the offensive line, honestly,” he said. “I’ve played everywhere on the five, and I feel like everywhere I went, I had some production. I produced somewhere at some point. I do think inside is a very good fit for me. I have gotten stronger. I have gotten more powerful. I think down there I’m able to display my strength and my power. So I do feel like it’s a good fit.”