West Virginia’s depth at the tight end and fullback positions this coming season has been impeded by early departures.
Fullback Logan Thimons is going to concentrate on the academic side of his collegiate career this year. Thus instead of being a fifth-year senior on the football field this fall, he’s going to focus solely on becoming a physician’s assistant.
At tight end, Jovani Haskins decided to seek a transfer and will spend his final season of college eligibility elsewhere.
The loss of those two potential fifth-year seniors puts a dent in WVU’s depth at fullback and tight end, though it doesn’t leave the cupboard completely bare.
Here is how we view the depth chart at the tight end and fullback positions this coming season.
Anticipated starters – TE Mike O’Laughlin (Soph.), FB Jackson Knipper (Jr.)
Jovani Haskins did play in all 12 games last year and started three of them, but over the course of the 2019 campaign, he was supplanted by Michael O’Laughlin as WVU’s main tight end.
Now a 6-foot-5, 255-pound sophomore, O’Laughlin played in every game last year as a redshirt freshman and started four of those, all in the second half of the season. The Glen Ellyn, Illinois, native, who was an academic all-Big 12 first-teamer in 2019, proved to be a willing blocker and also caught six passes for 24 yards on the season from his tight end position. Normally Neal Brown’s offense has separate fullbacks and tight ends, but O’Laughlin is versatile enough that he could slide back from tight end to fullback at times if necessary.
While O’Laughlin could potentially see some snaps at fullback, along with his normal tight end duties, WVU’s main fullback this coming season is expected to be Jackson Knipper. A 6-foot-2, 244-pound junior from Beavercreek, Ohio, Knipper initially attended Western Michigan and was a walk-on with the Bronco football team for two years. He redshirted as a true freshman and then played in four games at WMU in 2018. He transferred to West Virginia prior to the 2019 season and was eligible immediately. Knipper saw action in four games last year with the Mountaineers, mostly on special teams, but now he figures to move into a more prominent role as West Virginia’s starting fullback.
Likely top backups – TE T.J. Banks (Soph.), FB Truck Edwards (Soph.)
T.J. Banks arrived at WVU as a member of its class of 2018 with a great deal of acclaim. The East Allegheny (Pa.) High product was a first-team all-state selection in Pennsylvania and rated as one of the top 20 tight end prospects in the nation that year. It took Banks a while to finally work his way into game action with the Mountaineers, though, as he didn’t play in any games in 2018 nor did he get on the field for the first eight contests in 2019. He eventually got an opportunity in the final four games of ’19, and while he didn’t catch any passes in that time, he showed potential as a blocker. Now a 6-foot-5, 248-pound sophomore, Banks figures to have an opportunity to see significantly more playing time this coming season, working in rotation with O’Laughlin or in tandem with him in two tight end sets.
Behind Knipper at fullback, WVU’s doesn’t have another returning player who fits neatly into that position. Truck Edwards is the closest thing the Mountaineers would have, as the 5-foot-10, 212-pound walk-on sophomore is a powerhouse though not necessarily as big as a conventional major college fullback. A native of Bluefield, West Virginia, Edwards originally attended Pitt as a true freshman in 2018, but transferred to WVU last summer. He practiced with the Mountaineers throughout the fall, mainly at linebacker, but didn’t see any game action. Now in the offensive backfield, Edwards could see time as a running back, though his most likely path to playing time would seem to be at fullback.
Newcomers who could see game action this season – TE Charles Finley (Fr.)
Charles Finley (6-4, 215 lbs.) comes to West Virginia from Irvington, New Jersey, where he helped DePaul Catholic High School to the 2019 NJSIAA Non-Public Group 3 state championship. He caught 29 passes for 366 yards and seven TDs as a senior, earning second-team all-area honors. He is comparable to a younger version of O’Laughlin or Banks, in that he was more of a big receiver in high school than a prototypical tight end. He’ll have to become adept at the blocking aspect of the position, which starts with getting bigger and stronger. Normally he would have a redshirt season in which to develop, but West Virginia’s lack of depth at tight end could potentially force Finley into action as a true freshman, especially if an injury or illness should knock O’Laughlin or Banks out for any length of time.
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