WVU Tight End/Fullback Outlook – Most Ingredients Return
West Virginia football, and indeed much of the athletic world, may have halted for now in the face of the COVID-19 threat.
With the grace of God, though, eventually we’ll all return to normalcy at some point, and when that happens, football will be discussed again. WVU fans will want to know what to expect in 2020, so we are continuing with our position-by-position look at what to anticipate from West Virginia next season.
Today we focus on the tight ends and fullbacks.
During much of the Dana Holgorsen era, the tight end and fullback positions were morphed into one, often manned by the same person – be it Elijah Wellman or Trevon Wesco – who just lined up at different spots.
But in Neal Brown’s offensive system, the two roles are separate. Tight ends are tight ends, and fullbacks are fullbacks. Thus WVU is looking for two different sets of players rather than one group with hybrid skills.
Returning – T.J. Banks (TE, Soph.), Truck Edwards (FB, Soph.), Jackson Knipper (FB, Jr.), Mike O’Laughlin (TE, Soph.), Logan Thimons (FB, Sr.)
Departed – Elijah Drummond (FB, Sr.), Jovani Haskins (TE, Jr.), Joseph Turner (FB, Soph.)
Recently enrolled newcomers – none
Expected to enroll this summer – Charles Finley (TE, Fr.)
With Trevon Wesco in the lineup in 2018, West Virginia got more production out of the tight end position than it had at any time since Anthony Becht departed the program as a first-round NFL draft pick 18 years prior. Like Becht, Wesco was drafted by the New York Jets, and he left big shoes to fill at WVU.
Brown’s offense still used a tight end a great deal last year, as Mike O’Laughlin (6-5, 250 lbs., Soph.) and Jovani Haskins (6-4, 245 lbs. Sr.) split most of the snaps at that spot in 2019, even working in tandem at times. Both caught some passes – O’Laughlin six for 24 yards and Haskins four for 18 yards – but were used more as blockers than receivers.
As West Virginia seeks to improve its run game in 2020, its tight ends need to become even better blockers.
That may not have sat well with Haskins, who entered his name into the transfer portal at the conclusion of the 2019 season. His departure will clear the way for O’Laughlin, who was earning more playing time in any event.
Haskins’ transfer also opens up the possibility for additional playing time for T.J. Banks (6-5, 253 lbs., Soph.). A promising recruit coming out of the Pittsburgh suburb of Duquesne a couple of years ago, Banks saw no action in his first 20 games with the Mountaineers. He worked his way into the tight end rotation the last four games during the 2019 season, and showed a willingness to block, though he wasn’t targeted for any passes. He’ll try to continue his progression this spring, and with Haskins gone, Banks’ development will be key.
Charles Finley (6-4, 215 lbs., Fr.) will also be added to the tight end group this summer when he arrives at WVU from DePaul Catholic High School in Irvington, New Jersey. Finley is perceived as similar to O’Laughlin in that he was a lanky receiver in high school – 29 catches for 366 yards and seven TDs in helping DePaul to the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 3 State Championship in 2019 – but is projected to have the ability to add weight to his frame and be able to eventually play a true tight end at the Power 5 level. Such a transformation in size and strength took O’Laughlin a redshirt season to achieve, and Finley likely could use a year away from game action, concentrating mainly on the weight room.
The fullback in Brown’s offense is an entirely different job than tight end.
Logan Thimons (6-0, 231 lbs., Sr.) was WVU’s top fullback last year, and he got a great deal of action early in the season. But as the Mountaineer run game struggled and West Virginia used more and more four-receiver sets, the opportunities for the fullback diminished. Thimons is eligible to return as a fifth-year senior in 2020, but a good student who is planning on furthering his post-graduate work pursuing physician’s assistant training, he may bypass his final football season to concentrate on academics.
If Thimons returns, he will again be the top candidate for WVU’s block-first (and second and third) fullback spot. If not former Western Michigan transfer Jackson Knipper (6-2, 244 lbs., Sr.) will get an opportunity to at the fullback job.
Another intriguing prospect at fullback is Jason “Truck” Edwards (5-10, 212 lbs., Soph.). A Bluefield (W.Va.) High product, Edwards was a preferred walk-on at Pitt as a true freshman in 2018, but then decided to transfer to WVU the next summer. He sat out last season, but may factor into the Mountaineer plans in the future. He was two-way dynamo in high school, leading the Beavers to a 14-0 record the 2017 Class AA state championship. He had 130 tackles as a linebacker and also rushed for 1,154 yards and 24 touchdowns as a running back. When Edwards originally arrived at West Virginia, he was listed as a linebacker but he’s since moved over to offense. He could play a conventional fullback role, but because he has better ball skills than the others currently at that position, he also could get his hands on the football some. He potentially could even see some time as a running back, especially in short-yardage situations.