By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
April 7, 2008
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Had it been six months ago when Will Johnson was asked to move from wide receiver to tight end his reaction may not have been favorable. If you are a football player and you want the ball in your hands, going to Siberia for the summer may be much more appealing than playing tight end the way West Virginia used them in the past.
||Will Johnson catches a pass during Saturday's scrimmage at Milan Puskar Stadium.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
But today with Jeff Mullen spreading the football around like jelly and Associate Head Coach Doc Holliday now working with the tight ends/fullbacks, the sun is once again shining on those West Virginia tight ends. Trade in your full-cage face masks and your number 74 jerseys, WVU's tight ends are back in business.
Hallelujah says Johnson.
“I’m excited about it now because I’m getting the ball a lot. I’m catching onto it. It is fun and I like it,” Johnson said after Saturday’s practice.
Having only played tight end for two days, Johnson showed during Saturday’s scrimmage that he can be an effective weapon with the football in his hands. He took one pass out of the backfield and raced 26 yards up the sideline, finishing off the play by finishing off a DB.
Johnson’s catch and run certainly got the attention of Coach Bill Stewart.
“It was very nice to see Will Johnson out there. We put him at fullback/tight end and he made a tremendous catch and run and that was real pleasing to see,” Stewart said.
Johnson came to West Virginia as a wide receiver even though he played mostly halfback and linebacker in high school at Centerville High School in Dayton. Johnson was getting work with the second group at receiver when he was approached about making the move to tight end last week.
“I weigh a lot and I’m still gaining weight,” Johnson said. “They said it would be helpful to have a tight end with some speed out there to help balance the offense out and it’s just like having another receiver on the field - I’m just in a three-point stance.”
Johnson presently weighs 219 pounds with a goal of getting up to 235 before the start of next season. Having someone with Johnson’s versatility and athletic ability lining up either in the slot, at fullback or on the line of scrimmage gives West Virginia another weapon in its arsenal to keep defenses from crowding the line of scrimmage.
“I can line up in the slot position, I can flat-side in, corner routes or I can run a little flare route out of the backfield,” Johnson explained. “It’s good to have the speed at this position to do that.”
On the flip side, Johnson now must also take on defensive ends and linebackers. That’s something he’s not quite used to yet.
“I got my first taste of that today. It went all right,” Johnson said. “I’ve still got room to get bigger and gain weight.”
Using the proper leverage and staying low are the two biggest things Johnson says Holliday is trying to teach him right now.
“They are basically teaching me the blocking assignments,” Johnson said. “The routes come easy from me coming from the wide receiver position so we really don’t go over that much.”
Holliday frequently was out on the field during Saturday’s scrimmage to help Johnson get lined up properly. As he becomes more familiar with the position Holliday will eventually let him go on his own.
“The focus right now is learning the assignments, learning the blocking assignments and basically getting the offense down so I can play full speed without thinking all the time,” Johnson said.
If Johnson can get bigger and if he can successfully make the transition from wide receiver to tight end the move could be helpful to West Virginia’s offense. Johnson sees himself as just one more athletic weapon defenses will have to prepare for.
“It’s just going to help our offense become even better in the passing game,” he said.
West Virginia will keep the same practice schedule this week that it had last week. There will be practices on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with a scrimmage on Saturday. The Mountaineers will have their Gold-Blue Spring Game on Saturday, April 19.