West Virginia Football’s Biggest Strengths In 2019: No. 6 – Tight Ends
(Editor’s Note – We previously took a look at West Virginia’s top 10 biggest question marks heading into the 2019 football season. In the second half of this series, we turn our attention to what we perceive to be the top 10 strengths of Neal Brown’s first Mountaineer squad.)
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6. Tight Ends – The image of Trevon Wesco nimbly plucking the ball out of the air and then trucking defenders as he rumbled down the field for sizable gains is the indelible memory of West Virginia’s tight end play in 2018. His 26 catches for 366 yards didn’t approach some of the big totals put up by the other departing senior from that team, but there’s no question that his contributions opened up another avenue of attack for the Mountaineer offense. Can the path he forged be followed in 2019?
As discussed with the linebacking corps a couple of days ago, the tight end group has a mix of proven talent and some newcomers with solid potential. Redshirt junior Jovani Haskins doesn’t have the overall bulk of Wesco, but does have a more speed and some moves that should allow him to stress defenses, especially if he is covered with linebackers. Backing up Wesco, he had 16 catches for 148 yards and a score in 2018, and along with T.J. Simmons is the most experienced player among WVU’s returning passcatchers.
Behind Haskins is T.J. Banks, who has yet to see the field but has made an impression in practice. The redshirt freshman seems to turn in a spectacular grab or two in just about every session open to the media, and he’s an even bigger target at 6-foot-5 and 253 pounds than Haskins (6-4, 245 lbs.). If Banks can translate those showings to game action, the Mountaineers could find a different avenue with which to pursue their passing attack while the wide receiver corps gets settled in.
What makes the tight end position even more intriguing is redshirt freshman Mike O’Laughlin, another tall target (6-5, 250 lbs.) who played split end for a good portion of his high school career. O’Laughlin suffered a knee injury in the early days of 2018 fall camp and missed the entire year, so he didn’t get a chance to show his abilities, which include a good bit of wide receiver-type skills. Put all three of these players together, and the Mountaineers could attack defenses in a number of different ways.
Also in the position room is perhaps the most interesting and unknown player on the roster, Jesse Beal. A 10-year veteran of minor league baseball, Beal enrolled at WVU in January of 2018 and spent the year learning many of the basics of football, a sport he didn’t even play in high school. It’s tough to judge at this point whether or not he has a chance to make an impact this season, but his athleticism is evident, and he could work his way into the picture somewhere in the future. He gives WVU four big bodies at tight end, and some options in terms of lining up in power sets with multiple blockers to lead the way.
That leads to the second side of the tight end position, and it’s the one that will be the make-or-break determinant for the position in 2019. There are plenty of pass catchers here. Can they help an offensive line that is still a unit under construction? If so, that could have the follow-on effect of making the stocked running back position more productive, and allow the Mountaineers to get the most out of the positions which do have good depth.
It would not be fair to expect West Virginia to match last year’s explosive passing attack, but if the tight ends can come through as hoped, it could be more of a distributed, team effort in Neal Brown’s first season. The tight ends could be the pathway to easing pressure on the offense in the early going, and allow other spots to grow into their roles as the season progresses.
Previously In The Series