Pondering Mountaineer Football Camp Questions
Though West Virginia’s 2018 football team features plenty of game-tested veterans, it still contains many questions on all three sides of the ball.
How those questions are ultimately answered will determine if this season meets the high expectations many have for the Mountaineers.
Here are some of the biggest questions in our minds.
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Offense – With Will Grier, David Sills, Gary Jennings, Yodny Cajuste, Colton McKivitz and Kennedy McKoy, West Virginia’s offense has plenty of proven commodities. But it still has questions.
T.J. Simmons – The transfer from Alabama is finally eligible for game action at WVU, and it’s hoped he can immediately assume a prominent pass catching role. As good as Jennings, Sills and Marcus Simms were last year, West Virginia benefited greatly in 2017 from having a fourth big-play weapon at wide receiver in Ka’Raun White. A third-year sophomore, Simmons seemingly would be the perfect replacement for White, who is now with the Cincinnati Bengals. There are other options if Simmons can’t adequately fill White’s shoes, but T.J. would seem the most game-ready of those possibilities.
Alec Sinkfield – WVU has proven running backs in Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway, but many around the program think Sinkfield, a redshirt freshman, could be the most talented of the lot. He has the speed, shiftiness and pass-catching ability the Mountaineers like in a back. He lacks game experience, though. McKoy and Pettaway give West Virginia a pair of solid, experienced backs, but if Sinkfield is an upgrade, so much the better.
Joe and Mike Brown – The brothers were brought to WVU from junior college to play right away in the offensive line, particularly Joe, who has just one year of eligibility remaining. Both are slated to play guard, and the Mountaineers have a need at that position, as Josh Sills is the only returning guard with significant game action. Isaiah Hardy and Chase Behrndt will compete for the open starting guard spot opposite Sills, but if either or both of the Brown brothers, who are each huge at 6-foot-4, 369 pounds and 6-foot-3, 366 pounds respectively, can adapt quickly enough to truly battle for the starting job as well, that would be a significant benefit.
Third down conversions – As good as WVU’s offense was last year – 13th nationally in passing (308.6 ypg), 30th in total yards (459.6 ypg) and 22nd in scoring (34.5 ppg) – it struggled greatly on third downs. The Mountaineer offense converted just 33.5 percent of its third down situations, which was 111th out of the 129 teams in the FBS ranks. Only Kansas (28.9 percent) was worse in the Big 12. Obviously this percentage has to greatly improve if West Virginia is going to live up to its lofty expectations. Only two FBS teams converted better than 50 percent last year (Army at 55.2 and Colorado State at 50.3), but 62 teams were above 40 percent and 20 teams were above 45 percent. The latter is the minimum mark WVU should shoot for.
Skyler Simcox – The placekicker transferred in to WVU in January, having previous stops at Western Kentucky and Emory & Henry. He’s made a combined 25-of-33 field goal attempts in his college career so far with three from 50 yards or more. He comes to West Virginia with a scholarship, which Mountaineer coaches don’t hand out to specialists very often. Thus there is pressure on him to perform. But before he sees game action, he has to beat out Evan Staley, who was very solid as a redshirt freshman last year (6-of-7 on field goals and 16-of-16 on extra points). The Mountaineers’ placekicking duties would seem to be in pretty good shape with Staley, but if Simcox, who is eligible this season, is an upgrade, that only makes the team better.
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Defense – The individual questions on offense are for players who could help but aren’t necessarily vital. That’s not true on defense, where a number of the questions must receive positive answers or the Mountaineers are in big trouble.
Kenny Bigelow and Jabril Robinson – Neither of the two graduate transfer defensive linemen have to be superstars for the Mountaineers, but they must be adequate, dependable players. With the pair, West Virginia seemingly has a nice d-line rotation that can go at least eight deep. If each of these seniors can be solid pieces of the puzzle, the Mountaineers should be OK up front. If they are lacking, though, WVU has concerns.
Charlie Benton – Injuries in the spring to Quondarius Qualls and Brendan Ferns took away some experience and depth in WVU’s linebacking corps. Because of those injuries, the 6-foot-2, 213-pound Benton, a junior college transfer who arrived at West Virginia in January, is likely thrust into a starting role at the sam linebacker position. Benton isn’t very big and doesn’t have any major college experience, but he’s regarded as a good athlete who can cover a lot of ground. David Long at the will and Dylan Tonkery at the mike give West Virginia good play at the other two linebacking spots, but people will just run away from Long if Benton can’t hold his own on the other side.
Cornerbacks – I could take them individually, but it’s easier to lump them all together, because they each seem to be in the same boat. WVU has five cornerbacks who appear capable of earning starting jobs, but there is very little game experience among any of them. Hakeem Bailey and Derrek Pitts enter preseason camp listed as the starters, but Jake Long, Keith Washington and/or Sean Mahone could just as easily emerge with the No. 1 unit on the other end of camp. Bailey probably has the most pure talent of the bunch, but his confidence at times is lacking. Pitts doesn’t lack for confidence, but he’s relatively new to the cornerback position, having played primarily safety in high school and his first year at WVU. The Mountaineers appear to have sufficient quantity at the cornerback position, but quality is still to be determined. There just haven’t been enough game reps from any in this group to get a good idea of how they can perform once the lights come on.
Josh Norwood – A big hitter in a small package (5-10, 174 lbs.), WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has raved about Norwood since the one-time Ohio State Buckeye arrived at Morgantown in January. Kenny Robinson (free), Toyous Avery (bandit) and Dravon Askew-Henry (spur) give the Mountaineers three experienced safeties who are currently listed as starters. But Gibbie hints that he’ll find a starting role for Norwood at some point. The only question is where that might be. His hitting ability leans toward safety, but he has good coverage skills, and if WVU is shaky at corner, he might play there, even if its not his best position. And for sure, if he’s not a starter, he’ll be a big part of WVU’s passing down packages. It will be interesting to see how and where Gibson ultimately gets Norwood on the field.