WVU Searching For Immediate D-Line Help
In the past month, Neal Brown’s football program has gotten pledges from two more scholarship players for the class of 2019, giving the Mountaineers 24 signees in this group.
With 25 scholarships available for this class, WVU has one more grant-in-aid at its disposal.
The latest signees – wide receiver Sean Ryan, who is a transfer from Temple, and junior college offensive lineman John Hughes of Navarro (Texas) College – fill two need areas on Brown’s squad, but there is one more spot at which West Virginia must find someone to help immediately – defensive line. The final scholarship for the Mountaineers’ class of 2019 will almost certainly go to a defensive lineman who can come in and play right away, providing much needed depth at this position.
WVU’s roster has 12 players currently listed as defensive linemen, but five of those play defensive end, which calls for a specific skill set and different body type (longer and leaner) for a position that emphasizes pass rushing ability.
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s 4-2-5 scheme also features a bandit on the defensive front, which utilizes players similar to the defensive ends. West Virginia lists the current bandits as linebackers on its roster, because all of them converted over from that position in the Mountaineers’ old 3-3-5 odd stack.
Like defensive end, WVU also has five bandits so it would seem to have enough depth at each of those positions.
Where it needs help is at the two interior spots – defensive tackle and nose tackle. West Virginia has a total of seven players right now manning those two positions, and two of those are walk-ons – Nate Green and Connor Barwis. That leaves five scholarship players in the interior of the defensive line – Reese Donahue, Dante Stills and Stone Wolfley, who are defensive tackles, along with Darius Stills and Brenon Thrift, who are nose tackles. The interior got a little thinner recently when freshman nose tackle Tyrese Allen entered the transfer portal. Certainly Donahue and the Stills brothers have plenty of experience and talent, but to this point neither Wolfley nor Thrift, both of whom are seniors, have seen much defensive action in their Mountaineer careers. Even if Wolfley and Thrift can provide quality depth, WVU needs more than those five. At least six and preferably seven is what defensive line coach Jordan Leslie should have for an adequate rotation.
West Virginia signed two high school defensive linemen for this class – Jordan Jefferson (6-4, 300 lbs.) and Jalen Thornton (6-2, 250 lbs.) – and one or both could be asked to play as true freshmen, but throwing youngsters into game action in the d-line is rarely ideal.
Above and beyond those options, the Mountaineers want to add another defensive linemen who could help right away.
At this point, that likely means a graduate transfer. The odds of finding the necessary ability in a junior college prospect or a high school recruit at this late date is rare.
WVU went down this path last year as well when it was even more desperate for defensive line help, and it hit a pair of home runs in landing grad transfers Kenny Bigelow from USC and Jabril Robinson from Clemson. Each stepped in and started all 12 games last season in their one remaining year of college eligibility.
West Virginia certainly would love to have another grad transfer as productive as Bigelow or Robinson this time around, but with Donahue, and the Stills brothers already at the top of the depth chart, it doesn’t have to find ready-made starters. Someone who can play 20 or 30 snaps a game and provide quality depth would be sufficient.
With more than 600 players currently in the transfer portal, 79 of whom are defensive linemen, you would think West Virginia would have plenty of options at its disposal.
But when you start installing WVU’s parameters – interior defensive lineman, immediately eligible, skilled enough to play at the Power 5 level – that list quickly starts to get whittled down.
At this point, we don’t have any definitives as to what direction the Mountaineers are going to go in their search for immediate defensive line help, but the pool isn’t as deep as you would assume.
Out of the 79 d-linemen currently in the transfer portal, only about a half dozen or so seem to fit West Virginia’s needs.
Here is a look at those six:
Malik Barrow (Ohio State, 6-3, 270 lbs.) – Barrow’s is a similar story to that of Bigelow. A native of Tampa, Barrow was a four-star recruit coming out of IMG Academy. He picked Ohio State over a who’s who offer list that included the likes of Alabama, Miami, Kentucky, Michigan State, Penn State, etc. But once he got to Columbus, he suffered two ACL tears in a three-year span, and the thought last summer was that his football career was over. He did not play during the 2018 season, but as his knees started feeling better, he decided he wanted to restart his college career. He entered the transfer portal, and now with his degree in hand, he’s taken a visit to Penn State, and Indiana and Virginia are also in touch, as are plenty of other schools who are interested in the defensive lineman with two years of eligibility remaining. Barrow hasn’t listed WVU as one of the schools that has been in contact, but West Virginia assistant coach Chad Scott was his main recruiter when Scott was at Kentucky and Barrow was at IMG.
Reuben Jones (Michigan, 6-4, 250 lbs.) – A product of Lakeland, Fla., Jones had high level offers from the likes of Louisville, Michigan State and Nebraska coming out of high school, but picked the Wolverines. After a redshirt season in 2015, he got caught behind some very good defensive linemen at Michigan over the next three years, appearing in just 11 games during that span. Now after earning his degree, he’s looking for a college where he can get more playing time in his final season. His size doesn’t really lend itself to WVU’s needs in the interior of the defensive line, but he’s a possibility.
Mufi Hill-Hunt (Michigan State, 6-6, 260 lbs.) – A native of Sandy, Utah, Hill-Hunt aggravated an old knee injury while on a Mormon mission in 2015, and that knee continued to bother him during his time at Michigan State. After three years with the Spartans, in which he played just two games because of injuries, he’s decided to transfer. Now an MSU grad, he has at least two of eligibility remaining – and potentially three with a sixth-year medical redshirt – but his health is still a question.
Darius Slade (Arizona State, 6-4, 255 lbs.) – A native of Montclair, N.J., Slade signed with Ohio State originally and spent two years in Columbus. He transferred to Arizona State in 2017, and after sitting out one season, he became a regular in the Sun Devil defensive line rotation this past fall. He didn’t start, but played in 11 games. He’s hoping to find more playing time at a new school in his last season of college eligibility.
Zach Abercrumbia (Rice, 6-2, 286 lbs.) – One of the more experienced grad transfer defensive linemen available, Abercrumbia played in 40 games over four seasons for the Owls, including four in 2016 that eventually ended with a medical redshirt. A co-captain for Rice last season, the Houston native announced his intention to transfer this past January. Immediately Mississippi State, Iowa, Texas, Michigan and Penn State all showed interest. To this point, the sports management graduate, who has one year of college eligibility left, hasn’t publicly tipped his hand as to which way he’s leaning.
Tevita Mo’unga (BYU, 6-3, 340 lbs.) – The huge defensive lineman is leaving Provo. A native of Murrieta, California, Mo’unga was a three-star recruit coming out of high school and played in 23 games in his first two seasons at BYU, but he suffered a serve injury three games into the 2017 campaign and hasn’t played since. He now has a degree and potentially two seasons of college eligibility remaining, if he’s healthy enough to use them.
Tyrus Butler (UAB, 6-3, 340 lbs.) – Butler transferred from Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College to UAB prior to the 2018 season, but saw minimal time for the Blazers this past year. He was a high-level recruit coming out of Landry-Walker High School in New Orleans, where he was a teammate of current Mountaineer receiver Tevin Bush. At the time, he had offers from Texas A&M, Michigan, Oklahoma State and Mississippi State, but academics sent him to junior college. His career has not lived up to its early hype, and now he’s looking for a new school to try to make a final impression.
Certainly there are other possibilities above and beyond those seven. There are going to be other transfer candidates who just haven’t announced their intentions yet.
We’ll continue to follow any defensive lineman with the potential to land at WVU this year, but for now, this list will at least give an idea of the type of grad transfer prospects the Mountaineers could be looking at.