Carrier Needs Young Receivers To Make Their Mark
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – The new guys are always intriguing. Their potential may not yet be realized, but it’s also limitless. That’s why so many seem to love the backup quarterback or the second-string goalie.
For West Virginia’s offense this year, much of that unrequited talent comes at receiver. Most of the two-deep on that side of the ball is filled by players who have performed in the past, so the skill level of Justin Crawford, Colton McKivitz, Elijah Wellman, Kyle Bosch and even Will Grier is not an unknown.
But the Mountaineers have a group of receivers who seemingly have skill but to this point in their careers have not put their pass-catching ability on display very often in game situations. But for most of these, that opportunity will likely come this fall, as WVU’s second-year receiver coach Tyron Carrier is looking for guys to fill the shoes of Daikiel Shorts (63 catches for 894 yards last year) and Shelton Gibson (43 receptions for 951 yards in 2016), who are now both in the NFL. Ka’Raun White (48 catches for 583 yards last season) and Jovon Durante (35 receptions for 331 yards last year) are the only two of the Mountaineers’ returning receivers who caught more than 10 passes in 2016, so Carrier has to quickly prepare the likes of Gary Jennings, David Sills, Marcus Simms, Druw Bowen, Dominique Maiden, Ricky Rogers and Reggie Roberson to play prominent roles this season for WVU.
A converted quarterback who spent the 2016 season at the juco level throwing passes rather than catching them, Sills is at the head of the class when it comes to potential. At 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds, he has the size and athletic ability to be a major weapon for West Virginia. But until this past spring, he concentrated mainly on being a quarterback. He caught seven passes for 131 yards in a part-time receiver role in his first go-round at WVU in 2015, but he’s just now putting his full-time efforts into the receiver position.
“The quarterback background helps him, but some of the things we look for at receiver were new to him. But he adapted to that really fast,” noted Carrier. “When you’re a receiver, you don’t have to look to the backside of the field to figure out what is going on. There are only about three guys you need to read. David caught on to that in about a week. Now he teaches our new guys.
“Route running is still something we have to work on with David. Pad height is another thing we work on a lot,” added Carrier, who was a record-setting receiver himself at the University of Houston. “Also he has to learn the defenders. When you are a quarterback, you may see that a defender is going to drop into a particular area. But a receiver has to learn how they are going to drop there. David is still learning how to adjust to each individual defender.”
Though he’s still learning the receiver position, his background as a quarterback has brought with it natural leadership qualities.
“Everyone accepts David,” explained Carrier. “He was here before, and he was a leader then and he still is a leader. It helps to have a quarterback in our room. He was big reason why our receivers put in all the extra work this summer. I told him when he got here that he had to be an example for the others, and he’s lived up to that. He’s put in the work.”
Sills can play inside or outside receiver. Gary Jennings, who caught 10 passes for 165 yards last year, also can play outside, though the 6-foot-1, 204-pound seemingly has found a home at the inside receiver position. Those two, along with White and Durante, are all likely to be somewhere in WVU’s two-deep. Marcus Simms seems to be working his way into a spot in that rotation as well. The 6-foot, 178-pounder caught six passes for 95 yards as a true freshman last year, but there appears to be a new maturity level in the Sandy Spring, Md., native.
“One of the biggest things I believe in coaching is making freshmen sophomores,” noted Carrier. “You have to give them a chance to grow. You are asking 17- or 18-year-olds to take something really seriously, and the chance of them doing that are very rare. But Marcus is getting there. Last December he came to me and said, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Whatever you need of me, I’ll do it.’ So, he’s putting in the work. He’s accountable. When you get someone who holds themselves to that standard, he’s going to be rewarded by it.
“It’s a tough transition for a youngster,” continued Carrier. “They are in a new space, away from home probably for the first time. Mom and dad aren’t here making you get up and be where you need to be. It’s just a matter of growing up. It’s something most freshmen go through.”
One of the young receivers going through that maturation process now is true freshman Reggie Roberson. The 6-foot-3, 192-pounder from Desoto, Texas, has already flashed enough ability to catch the eye of his position coach.
“Reggie is a youngster who will be very serviceable to us this year,” stated Carrier. “He’s picking up the details, getting the plays and those things. He still has a ways to go, because he’s a freshman. We’ll know more when we get the pads on.”
A redshirt freshman who is pushing for a spot on the depth chart is Druw Bowen, a walk-on from George Washington High School in Charleston. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Bowen has good physical tools, but it’s his work ethic that has impressed his coach.
“Druw is going to play, but I don’t talk too much about him because he’s my secret weapon,” Carrier chuckled. “Druw is a great player. He took the initiative this summer to work on some areas where he had some problems. He worked on those areas every single day. He never had issues catching the ball. He bad pad-height issues that would lead into sloppy routes. Now his pad height is a million times better. His work ethic and his attention to details have improved a lot.”
All West Virginia’s receivers, both young and old, have to adjust to a new quarterback, as Will Grier takes over for last year’s starter Skyler Howard. A transfer from Florida, Grier has already shown his ability to throw the football, and Carrier is warning his receivers to be ready for a rocket headed their way at any time.
“Now they know it is a race to get open,” said Carrier of his receivers. “Will can put the ball in a tight pocket, so anyone who is even slightly open can get the ball. The most important thing is to have a quarterback who will trust in you, and when you get that trust, he’ll get you the ball.”