Hetzel’s Notebook: Staley ‘Clear-Cut No. 1’
With Mike Molina gone, there was some question about West Virginia’s placekicking situation coming into this season.
The job right now belongs to Evan Staley, who replaced Molina after he was injured last year and was accurate, but left big questions about the strength of his leg.
“Evan is a clear-cut No. 1,” coach Dana Holgorsen said at his Thursday media briefing. “He’s kicking the ball very well.”
Last year Staley made six of his seven field goal attempts but the Hampshire High product made none from further out than 36 yards.
This week, however, Staley stepped up and struck one through from 54 yards out.
“And it had some space,” Holgorsen said. “He’s striking the ball really well. He has earned that scholarship.”
While that is taken care of for now, they still are looking at kickoffs — which Staley did in eight games last year and averaged 60 yards per boot — and there remains competition at long snapper and as backup kickoff man.
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Already blessed at wide receiver with the likes of David Sills and Gary Jennings, a pair who appear on the Biletnikoff Award preseason watch list, and speedster Marcus Simms, West Virginia has a sophomore transfer from Alabama, no less, who has a year of scout team under his belt and seems ready to make an impact.
At 6-2, 200 pounds, T.J. Simmons has the size and some game experience, having played in 12 games in 2016 for the Crimson Tide, mostly on special teams.
He made enough of an impression there to work his way into the receiver rotation after catching 20 touchdown passes his senior year at Clay-Chalkville High School in Birmingham and now he is cracking WVU’s rotation.
“T.J. still has a long way to go, but I like his personality,” said offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. “He brings enthusiasm and some energy out there. He’s physical. That’s something we need to keep emphasizing on the perimeter.
“Him and Will (Grier) are getting there. Will has put a lot of emphasis on trying to build that continuity with T.J. that he has with Gary and David.”
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WVU’s defense is set up for the linebackers to make most of the tackles and provide most of the heat on the quarterback, although defensive coordinator Tony Gibson does expect his safeties to be in there making plays, too.
This year, with David Long leading the way and expected to be there right from the start for the first time in his career, and with Dylan Tonkery moving to the Mike linebacker spot to take the spot vacated by Al-Rasheed Benton, WVU’s linebackers promise to be a solid group.
“We’re working on it,” Gibson said, offering a word of caution. “Am I comfortable right now? No. We’re four days in though. I like where we’re at, obviously, with David and Tonk.”
It’s the other spot and the depth where Gibson believes there’s room to improve.
“Charlie Benton has to step it up a little bit. (Redshirt junior linebacker) Shea Campbell, (redshirt sophomore linebacker Zach) Sandwisch, (junior linebacker Adam) Hensley, (freshman linebacker Josh) Chandler — those are all guys who are willing bodies, and we’ll be able to throw them in there and get some good reps from them.”
Campbell, who comes out of Morgantown High, is a junior who has not yet played a game but who has created quite an impression, enough so that Holgorsen put him on scholarship this year.
“He’s earned the scholarship,” Holgorsen said. “Tony Gibson really likes him.”
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You’ve heard this song before, but WVU is putting a lot of emphasis on ball security for its running backs again this year, but running back coach Marquel Blackwell is taking a different approach on it than normal.
He has them carrying two footballs.
“It’s a deal where you get yourself comfortable and familiar with carrying two balls,” he explained. ‘Normally, you teach ball security on every play. It’s hard to keep two balls in a secure position.
“We’re just trying to over-emphasize the ball security part of it. We want to make sure they’re getting used to holding the ball in both arms. We’re making sure, as well, that there’s an emphasis on the day-to-day deal. That’s the one thing we have to do is protect the ball and the quarterback.”
Fortunately, they don’t have to block for two quarterbacks at a time … yet.