How Big Of An Issue Is WVU’s Receiver Depth Heading Into The Opener?
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia has what you’d call an issue.
It’s not a problem, per say. It’s not even really a major concern. But it’s unsettling, one of those worrisome facets of building a football team that can’t be overlooked – but also shouldn’t be overcooked.
The Mountaineers, operators of a multiple offense bent on balance, have only three proven receivers. Even that’s stretching it – which figures to be among the bigger issues against Virginia Tech – because tagging David Sills and Gary Jennings with that term is generous. Sills has all of seven catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns in his collegiate career, and spent last season playing quarterback at the junior college level. Jennings shows 17 receptions for 281 yards over two seasons, with three touchdowns.
That leaves White’s 63 career catches for 853 yards and five TDs as far and away the best line among returning receivers. One has to figure that being on the field with current NFL wideout Shelton Gibson helped draw defenders away from White last season, something he will have to do to aid WVU’s passing game this year. All of the above was compounded by the transfer of Jovon Durante and the suspension of vertical threat Marcus Simms for at least the first game after a DUI arrest.
It raises the question of where coordinator Jake Spavital turns with an offense that likes to run four- and five-wide sets at times. The easy answer is using the skill set of running back Kennedy McKoy, whom wideouts coach Tyron Carrier calls a receiver at heart. McKoy has the hands, ball skills and build – the sophomore actually lost three pounds in the offseason, trimming to a lithe 6-0, 203 – to see significant snaps in the slot. Add in the agility and explosiveness of Tevin Bush, an early enrollee who racked up more than 2,500 all-purpose yards last year at powerhouse Landry-Walker High in New Orleans, and West Virginia appears to have at least adequate numbers.
“I tried to steal him all the time; It didn’t work,” Carrier said of using McKoy solely as a receiver. “Kennedy is a very smart kid. Great hands and you don’t have to coach him a lot. You tell him a couple things and he gets it. It sticks. That’s what makes him so great. You can take him from the backfield and line him up at receiver at any time and he will know exactly what he is doing.
“We know (Tevin) is spectacular with the ball in his hands.”
So that’s two pure slot receivers. But the Mountaineers’ loss, in terms of Durante and Simms, has come on the outside. The immediate and obvious solutions there are junior Dominique Maiden and true freshman Reggie Roberson. Maiden, at 6-foot-5, has showed solid development through fall camp, but doesn’t track the ball nearly as well as the 6-3 Sills, and lacks the same yards-after-catch ability. Roberson is an elusive slasher-type receiver who averaged 17.7 yards per catch last season while racking up 169 all-purpose yards per game at Mesquite Horn High in Desoto, Tex. But he hasn’t faced major collegiate corners, and thus an initial concern with adjusting to the speed of the game.
Asked what the plan was for the opener against Virginia Tech, and how Carrier and the offense might deploy the multiple options, the second-year assistant was succinct.
“When the starters get tired, I sub them and put the back-ups in,” he said. “We have Reggie and Dom. It’s really who practices the best. We will see.”
The best guess is a steady dose of White, Sills, Jennings and McKoy at wideout, and then the use of three receiver sets with two backs. West Virginia, with Bush, McKoy, Justin Crawford, Martell Pettaway and newcomer Alec Sinkfield, have five legit threats at running back. WVU can use McKoy and Bush predominantly in the slot, and run a mix of Crawford, Pettaway and McKoy – taking advantage of the duel abilities of the latter – in a rather balanced offense also buoyed by fullback Eli Wellman.
At least that’s the thought process for now.
“Right now we are just schemes are far as what Virginia Tech likes to do,” Carrier said. “We haven’t game-planned everything yet. We’ll probably know more next week.”