Many factors play into the ability of a newcomer to get on the field in his first year in a program, but one item that often thought to carry weight is the presence of those players in spring football drills. The thinking goes that the 15 spring sessions help the new guys get a head start on learning the offense or defense, and perhaps more importantly, get comfortable with the demanding routine of classwork, practice and workouts. So, with that in mind, our first pre-spring look focuses on the players that are already on campus, and how they might contend for playing time in WVU's second season in the Big 12 conference.
Hodari Christian: A Pennsylvania native who goes against type, Christian isn't a big, physical run-stuffer. Instead, he's a player who chases down ball carriers and relies as much on speed as anything else to get the job done. Those attributes give him a bit better chance to play this year than if he were a size and strength guy. While the Mountaineers have a number of linebackers returning in 2013, many of them are bigger guys optimized for going against the run (Tyler Anderson, Garrett, Hope, Jared Barber), or players that have moved down from safety spots (Wes Tonkery, Sean Walters). West Virginia desperately needs 'backers who can get to the quarterback from the second level on blitzes, and also for players to fill the speed side of the buck linebacker equation. While Christian isn't a shoo-in for earning time, the openings are clearly there for him to step into.
Malik Greaves: Safety might have the most depth of any position on defense, so even though West Virginia's performance against the pass was abysmal in 2012, it might prove harder for a newcomer such as Greaves to earn a spot. Still, the hope is that he can emulate the start that Karl Joseph fashioned a year ago and give immediate help. Along with Joseph, WVU returns Darwin Cook, K.J. Dillon, and Travis Bell as players with some level of experience. Joseph and Cook will be the odds-on nominees for the starting spot, but there are still other positions to fill, especially in third down packages and on special teams. Greaves, who has the size and weight to compete right away, will likely focus on earning time as one of those special package performers, and try to put himself in a battle with the backups for spot duty if needed.
Chavas Rawlins: The demands of the quarterback position make Rawlins the least likely to see the field this year, but that's not a reflection on his talent. It's simply the norm for the QB spot, especially in an offense that puts as much on the man at the helm as Dana Holgorsen's does. This spring, Rawlins needs to learn the offense, and soak up as many reps as he can, both physical and mental. When he's not on the field, he needs to watch every snap, go through his own reads and make the decision where he'd throw the ball just as he would as if he's out there in the pocket. That's a tough adjustment for players to make, especially those that are used to being in the action on every snap, but it's key for his development.
Daikiel Shorts\Kevin White: The total lack of productivity returning at wide receiver gives both Shorts and White a tremendous chance to play right off the bat. However, that doesn't mean it will automatically happen – and even if it does, that they will be productive. WVU hoped Dante Campbell and K.J Myers would contribute a season ago as redshirt freshmen, but neither made more than a token contribution in terms of on-field performance. Of course, there's a lot more playing time available this year, and no "go-to" receivers coming back, so that works in their favor. They'll have to work quickly to develop rapport with quarterbacks Paul Millard and Ford Childress, which will be critical in helping them make a good showing during the month of spring drills. It's hard to imagine, though, that both will be on the bench this fall – there are just too many openings for pass catchers to rule anyone out.
Wendell Smallwood\Dreamius Smith: While WVU does have more players returning at running back, with both Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison on the roster, there's still plenty of room for at least one, if not both, of these newcomers on the depth chart. Smith might be a bit more physically ready than Smallwood, given his junior college experience, and he gives the Mountaineers a bigger body that they currently don't have in a ball-carrying role. That shouldn't rule out Smallwood, however, who can catch the ball out of the backfield and has some hidden power in his 5-11 frame. Smith looks like the guy with the chance to make a leap into the fray more quickly, but Smallwood also has the ability to put pressure on the returnees. In the end, it won't be a surprise to see both dressing and playing this fall.
It might be indicative of West Virginia's returning talent that six of the seven early enrollees have at least a 50-50 chance of seeing the field, but that's exactly what you wind up with when looking at the early enrollees in this year's class. Only Rawlins, due more to the nature of his position, is very unlikely to play this season, and any (or all) of the others could wind up with a significant role on this year's team.