WVU sets up camp with lots of intrigue
MORGANTOWN — The preseason college football magazines have been sitting on grocery stores shelves for quite a while now.
West Virginia University has issued its Will Grier-for-Heisman videos. More college football “watch lists” have been issued than those by Fossil, Bulova, Invicta, Seiko and Rolex combined. Preseason rankings have over populated the internet for months.
Yet, now, finally, preseason football practices are beginning. The Mountaineers will report to camp Thursday and begin “shorts and T-shirts” practices Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, Dana Holgorsen will address the media for the first time and WVU’s camp will get underway in earnest next week.
So, with exactly one month until the Mountaineers’ Sept. 1 date with Tennessee in Charlotte, North Carolina, let’s examine six points of intrigue surrounding this camp.
The quarterback position: No, not the starting quarterback position. That’s rock solid with Grier. Yet offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said in the spring he’s putting even more on the QB in terms of checks and getting surrounding players in the best positions.
“Now, it’s ‘What’s the best thing for the team and the offense in the situation we’re currently in?’ ” Spavital said. “I think he really has a good understanding of that.”
But what about the man behind Grier? Is Miami transfer Jack Allison, who had to sit out all of last season, capable of leading the team if Grier goes down — especially considering Grier’s extra duties? All of Mountaineer Nation saw what happened at the end of last season when Chris Chugunov had to step in. Also, might highly regarded freshman Trey Lowe ultimately be the backup and/or replacement to Grier?
Running back: This might be the most fun to watch. Holgorsen has said the run game “needs improvement.” And Spavital agreed.
“I thought at times we weren’t very efficient last season,” said the OC in the spring. “So we have been spending a lot of time making sure our O-line and running backs are on the same page. When we hand the ball off, we don’t want to put Will in all these crazy positions where he has to convert a third-andlong. The odds aren’t in your favor when you’re consistently in third-and-long situations.”
Departed Justin Crawford never provided the electricity expected from him. Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway were OK, but showed more flashes as freshmen.
Leading us to this question: Might redshirt freshman Alec Sinkfield win the starting job?
“He’s a dynamic back,” Spavital said. “He’s got speed. And he’s a lot more physical than what you’d think he’d be. Plus, he’s got good ball skills. He’s an all-around back that’s pretty dynamic.”
And keep in mind highly regarded true freshman Leddie Brown. The Mountaineers beat out some high-profile schools to sign Brown.
Tight end: You get the feeling many WVU fans won’t believe it until they see it, but, yes, the position has been incorporated into the Holgorsen-Spavital offense.
Call it the definition of a point of intrigue. Yet Grier and teammates raved about senior Martinsburg, West Virginia, native Trevon Wesco after spring ball. Also, it was once whispered about Miami transfer Jovani Haskins that he has the team’s fourth-best hands behind David Sills V, Gary Jennings and T.J. Simmons. Too, WVU signed T.J. Banks and Mike O’Laughlin.
“It will be a big change moving forward,” Holgorsen said.
Offensive line: The knock on West Virginia’s offensive line has been depth issues. But could one family — the Browns — solve that problem?
Again, intriguing. Both are originally from Compton, California, but not straight outta there. There was a stop at Eastern Arizona Community College. Can Mike and Joe Brown go straight from there to Power 5 play?
Mike, by the way, is listed at 6-foot-3, 366 pounds. Joe is listed at 6-4, 369.
Defensive line: Perhaps the most talked about position this summer. Starting nose tackle Lamonte McDougle transferred out, landing at Washington State. Others, including Adam Shuler, who landed at Florida, left as well.
Can the arrival of graduate transfers Kenny Bigelow and Jabril Robinson of USC and Clemson, respectively, and four-star freshman Dante Stills be the answers to defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s prayers? Could the line actually end up above average to good?
One would imagine Bigelow’s health will be the key. He missed the 2014 and 2016 seasons because of knee issues before being granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA.
Cornerback: This might end up being the most intriguing position to watch. It may also be the most important to watch. That’s because WVU sits in the pass-happy Big 12. And even when the Mountaineers aren’t playing league opponents, they’ll be facing quarterbacks like N.C. State’s Ryan Finley, a preseason All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick who completed 65.1 percent of his passes for 3,518 yards last season.
Recent reports say potential UCLA transfer Denzel Fisher won’t make the grade, leaving junior Hakeem Bailey as the only corner with much experience (11 games last season, three as a sophomore). Last season’s starters, Mike Daniels and Elijah Battle, are gone. That means Dunbar, West Virginia, native Derrek Pitts and sophomore Jake Long will have to step up in a big way unless Gibson makes more moves, like switching Kenny Robinson back to the position.