News, Notes & Rumors – July 23
The release of WVU’s 2018 football media guide last week brought a new version of the Mountaineer depth chart.
Admittedly such a preseason depth chart is far from the edition that will be in use for West Virginia’s season opener against Tennessee on Sept. 1. But still, it gives us a little snapshot worth talking about.
There weren’t any shocking revelations in this latest WVU depth chart, especially if you had paid attention to what the coaches had been saying since the spring. Still, seeing third-year sophomore Jacob Buccigrossi, who largely because of injuries has not played a game yet in his college career, listed as the starting center ahead of junior Matt Jones, who started all 13 games last year, was a bit of an eye opener, even though it confirmed what offensive line coach Joe Wickline had been insinuating.
I also was interested in the pecking order at the two cornerback positions, since both those spots seem unsettled. Hakeem Bailey and Derrek Pitts were listed as the two starters with Jake Long and Keith Washington backing them up. Those jobs, like all others, are still very much up for grabs as WVU readies to begin preseason practice on Aug. 2, but if you look at the depth chart realistically, there are really only two or three starting spots that appear to be truly contested on each side of the ball. After all, no one is actually going to beat out Will Grier, David Sills, Gary Jennings, Marcus Simms, T.J. Simmons, Yodney Cajuste, Josh Sills, Colton McKivitz or Trevon Wesco on offense, and there are nearly an equal number of starters locked in on defense.
But there are a few battles worth watching when preseason drills begin. In the defensive line, grad transfers Jabril Robinson and Kenny Bigelow are each currently listed as backups, but both could push for a starting role. The same is true at offensive guard, where Mike and Joe Brown are juco transfers not even yet on the depth chart. One could potentially be a starter. Besides that d-line, the cornerback positions and the running back spot also figure to be competitive battles. Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway are listed as one and two respectively at running back, but don’t overlook the third guy in that order, Alec Sinkfield.
The tussle for the backup quarterback spot, which currently has Jack Allison as No. 2 and Trey Lowe No. 3, is one of many position battles for places on the second line of the depth chart that will be very interesting. It’s those backup roles all across the board that potentially could feature much more movement than the starting ones.
This latest depth chart doesn’t feature any newcomers who have just joined the team this summer, like the Brown brothers, but several could compete for spots, at least as backups, before the season opener. True freshmen Kwantel Raines at safety and Dante Stills at defensive end certainly will push for places on the depth chart, as will some of the true freshmen receivers like Sam James, Bryce Wheaton, Dillon Spalding and Randy Fields.
Three walk-ons, all in-state products, are listed in this two-deep. All are backups, but each would seem to be in a position for spot on the depth chart. Linebacker Shea Campbell of Morgantown, wide receiver Druw Bowen of Charleston and fullback Elijah Drummond of Bridgeport will each be fighting for playing time come the fall.
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Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables should donate some of his record-setting contract to West Virginia University.
Without the Mountaineers, Venables would not be entering his seventh season as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator, and he probably wouldn’t have just signed a five-year contract paying him a total of $11.6 million.
WVU capped off its first season under Dana Holgorsen with a 70-33 thrashing of Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns in South Florida that night, as the Mountaineers rolled up 589 yards of total offense. The record-setting WVU performance led Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney to fire his defensive coordinator Kevin Steele a week after the bowl game.
Swinney’s search for a new defensive coordinator took him to Oklahoma, where Venables was the D.C., but was in a bit of a power struggle with Mike Stoops, who had just returned to OU after an unsuccessful stint as the head coach at Arizona. With Mike’s brother, Bob, serving as the Sooners’ head coach, Venables saw how that struggle was going to play out, so he took the offer from Swinney and headed to Clemson.
The combination has worked well ever since, as the Tigers have gone 72-11 since Venables’ arrival and have twice played for the college football championship, winning one in 2016.
Venables was already doing very well financially, but last week he signed a deal that will pay him $2 million a year for the next five years plus retention bonuses that could add another $1.6 million to the package if he stays through 2022. LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is the only college football assistant making more on an annual basis, as he agreed to a $2.5 million a year contract this past January. But because Aranda’s deal is for four years, Venables’ total package of $11.6 million is actually the highest ever for a college football assistant.
And it all happened because Geno Smith, with help from Tavon Austin, Darwin Cook and Bruce Irvin, hung 70 on Kevin Steele and the Tigers in the Orange Bowl.
What happened to Steele? Things worked out just fine for him. Though he was out of football for a year in 2012, he landed with Alabama for two seasons starting in 2013. Then he was the defensive coordinator at LSU in 2015 and now in starting his third season as the defensive coordinator at Auburn. Steele won’t be making quite what Venables will at Clemson, but Auburn isn’t paying him minimum wage. He’s the seventh highest paid assistant in college football, making a reported $1.2 million a year. Not bad for a guy who never figured out how to defend the touch pass.
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At the Big 12’s Media Days, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said that the Mountaineers will begin fall practice on Aug. 2. That’s 31 days before the Sept. 1 season opener against Tennessee.