Charting WVU's Depth
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
August 26, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Coach Bill Stewart promised that there would be plenty of competition when the Mountaineers began fall training camp earlier this month.
After almost three weeks of work complete, it appears most of the shuffling has taken place along the offensive line where Coach Dave Johnson said last week that he’s got four players that he’s comfortable with right now.
“I’d like to have seven or eight that are ready,” Johnson said.
The top five looked like this heading into fall camp: Don Barclay (left tackle), Josh Jenkins (left guard), Eric Jobe (center), Jeff Braun (right guard), Selvish Capers (right tackle).
Two weeks later, Johnson moved Jobe (a five-game starter at center in 2008) to right guard, elevated backup Joey Madsen to starting center and switched Braun to backup center. Johnson also moved senior Jon Walko from right tackle to left tackle where he will back up Barclay, and he moved junior Matt Timmerman from left tackle to right tackle where he will now back up Capers.
Freshman John Bassler will continue to work behind Jobe at right guard and sophomore Chad Snodgrass will back up Jenkins at right guard. Timmerman and Braun will likely be the first two off the bench.
True freshmen Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Geno Smith and Shawne Alston have also cracked the depth chart. Smith was named Jarrett Brown’s backup after last weekend’s scrimmage, meaning starting Z receiver Bradley Starks can continue to take most of his reps there.
“(Smith) has a physical skill set that I like,” said offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. “He has a natural presence in the pocket. He does a real nice job of protecting the football, not seeing the rush, keeping his eyes down field and seeing a number of receivers throughout his progression. He also delivers the ball nicely.”
Mullen has also been pleased with the progress Brown has made mentally during training camp.
“You prepare as a backup your entire career and now you have to prepare as a starter – those are two entirely different things,” Mullen said. “He’s done well when called upon throughout his career. Now, we’re going to call on him for 13 straight weeks. That’s a process you don’t understand until you go through it.”
Bailey is listed behind Starks and J.D. Woods at Z after starting camp at the slot receiver positions. Alston, at 6-feet and 218 pounds, is the big in-between-the-tackles runner West Virginia lacked last year at tailback and has been getting work in short yardage situations. Noel Devine is the starter with sophomore Mark Rodgers listed as the back up.
Austin has turned heads with his playmaking ability at slot receiver. He has made at least one eye-opening play during each practice, and he enters the season opener backing up Jock Sanders at S. Austin has also been asked to learn the H receiver position as well. Senior Wes Lyons is listed No. 1 on the depth chart at H receiver, with senior Alric Arnett returning at X. Backing up Arnett is true freshman Logan Heastie.
Tyler Urban is at the top of the depth chart at tight end with a much bigger Will Johnson backing him up. Redshirt freshman Ryan Clarke is the No. 1 fullback with sophomore Ricky Kovatch backing him up.
“If we’re going to be a good short yardage team we need a fullback and a tight end,” said Mullen. “That was an issue (last year), but the improvement of both Ryan Clarke and Tyler Urban is exciting.”
Despite the tinkering along the offensive line, Mullen believes the offense is much further along than it was last year at this time.
“Our coaches and players all feel a sense of understanding,” Mullen said. “We were able to put the while package in in five days. We pushed them really hard mentally the first five days, and now we’re breaking it down into little parts.”
There was not quite as much movement on the defensive side of the ball.
Redshirt freshman Jorge Wright is now listed as Scooter Berry’s backup at defensive tackle while Najee Goode has moved from weakside to middle linebacker where he will share backup duties with Anthony Leonard behind starter Reed Williams.
“From our standpoint, the more kids that we can have an opportunity to play – and we would like to play a core of about 20-21 guys – the better off we will be,” said defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. “The kids will dictate that in their ability to make plays in practice and do what we ask of them.”
Sidney Glover can play either the bandit or strong safety where he is working with Nate Sowers and Boogie Allen. Senior Guesly Dervil had a strong fall camp and is now listed as the No. 2 right corner behind Keith Tandy.
“Our whole deal is to try and be a year better,” said Casteel. “We’re not trying to be where we were at last year, since we are a little older.”
Casteel is comfortable with his top three up front in nose tackle Chris Neild, defensive tackle Scooter Berry and defensive end Julian Miller. The backups are Josh Taylor, Larry Ford and J.B. Lageman.
“We are developing depth with coach (Bill) Kirelawich’s guys,” Casteel said. “We have just about all of those guys back. Julian Miller has had a good camp. He is a little bit bigger and stronger, and Josh Taylor is pushing for playing time (as Neild’s backup).”
He is also happy with the play of his top three linebackers Williams, Pat Lazear and J.T. Thomas. The linebacker rotation will also include Zac Cooper and Ovid Goulbourne.
“We have a little bit of depth at the linebacker position,” said Casteel.
Sophomore Robert Sands returns as the team’s starting free safety with Brandon Hogan also returning at left corner. Sophomore Eain Smith will back up Sands and senior Kent Richardson will back up Hogan.
Punter Scott Kozlowski performed kickoffs during the spring, but that role will likely be taken over by Western Washington transfer Josh Lider. Freshman Tyler Bitancurt will begin the season kicking field goals with Kozlowski doing the punting.
Devine, Sanders and Austin are the top three on kickoff returns, with the punt return duties being handled by Hogan, Sanders, Woods and Austin.
Sophomore Cody Nutter is the long snapper on punts and field goals and the No. 1 holder for placements is junior Jeremy Kash.
West Virginia will continue work through the weekend before beginning game-week preparation next Monday for the season opener against Liberty on Saturday, Sept. 5, at Milan Puskar Stadium.