Which position group are you most concerned about in 2015?
Greg Hunter: With the departure of Kevin White and Mario Alford, West Virginia lost 174 receptions, 2,392 receiving yards and 21 receiving touchdowns from this past year. Obviously both were big play threats, and no one else still on the roster has shown anything close to their capability to this point. Jordan Thompson and Daikiel Shorts did combine for 73 catches for 944 yards last season, but both were slot receivers. In terms of outside receivers – the spots manned by White and Alford – WVU’s returnees have a grand total of six receptions and 98 yards. The Mountaineers badly need two or three wide receivers to step up. The one bit of good news is that at this point last year, no one had any clue that Kevin White of 2013 would turn into Kevin White of 2014. West Virginia needs Shelton Gibson, Vernon Davis or someone like them to make a similar leap this coming season. Quarterback and offensive line are other areas of concern, but for me the biggest is wide receiver.
Matt Keller: Defensive line. West Virginia won't be able to compete at a very high level until it can establish itself along both fronts better. The offense has moved sans an good offense line, and some of the up front issues can be hidden to an extent. But opposing offenses will relentlessly attack weaker fronts. Running the ball is the easiest way to control a game, an aspect well displayed by WVU's foes last season. Until the front can better contain the run, West Virginia won't reach that top shelf head coach to which Dana Holgorsen referred following the bowl defeat.
Michael Carvelli: As Clint Trickett announces his departure from the game of football, Skyler Howard had the chance to assert himself as the frontrunner to take over at quarterback for the Mountaineers in 2015. But after struggling to make some throws in WVU’s loss to Texas A&M, the job will be - and should be - an open competition between the signal callers on the roster when spring practice opens up. Between Howard, redshirt freshman William Crest and true freshmen David Sills and Chris Chugunov, there will be plenty of options to look at, but we all saw how tough it was for West Virginia when a quarterback competition in which nobody stepped up and took the job took place a few years ago. Until it looks like someone has seized the starting position for themselves, the quarterback position should be one of the more concerning positions for the Mountaineers.
Roger "CJ" Harvey: The defensive line, aside from its above average showing against Baylor, underperformed the rest of the season. West Virginia totaled 20 sacks all year, and ranked 100 out of 128 teams in the FBS. For the 2015 season the line will not be much better. Aside from individual growth in the offseason, not many defensive lineman stood out. Kyle Rose is more of a run-stopper, and Noble Nwachukwu rarely got to the quarterback. WVU will need to find more ways to get pressure on the quarterback next season, but I’m not sure the defensive line will be doing so.
Kevin Kinder: Wide receiver as a group stands out, for many of the reasons already listed by Greg. While there are a couple of solid returnees in Thompson and Shorts, is either ready to be a go-to guy? None of the receivers have had much time with any of the quarterback candidates, although they did get a few weeks with Skyler Howard after he took over the starting job at the end of the season. Will anyone have the rapport to become an 80- or 90-catch guy pushing the 1,000 yard mark?
Which position group are you least concerned about?
Greg Hunter: All five starters return from a secondary that was pretty good last year, as WVU finished second in the Big 12 in passing yards allowed (231.2 yards per game) after finishing last in that category in the league in 2013 (263.3 ypg) and ninth the season before (312.5 ypg), which was its first year in the Big 12. West Virginia’s pass defense held 10 of its 13 opponents from this past season at or below their season passing average, and with every starter returning and the depth seemingly getting better, there’s no reason to believe this unit won’t get even better this coming year. I also think WVU has strength at running back and linebacker, but no group had better results in 2014 with fewer departures heading into 2015 than its defensive secondary.
Matt Keller: As an entire group, the secondary should continue to improve. There were problems last season, with occasional receivers running wide open. And many might point to the running backs. But West Virginia wasn't explosive out of the backfield last season, and one could argue the secondary - despite suspensions and multiple injuries - made more big plays than did the backs. I expect the same in 2015.
Michael Carvelli: West Virginia was able to run the ball pretty well a year ago, and that backfield should once again be a big strength for the Mountaineers in 2015. Of the four backs returning (only Dreamius Smith will not return), all four made an impact in some way last season and Donte Thomas-Williams will join the group after redshirting in 2014. With Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood leading the way, the Mountaineers could have one of the better rushing attacks in the Big 12 Conference next season.
Roger "CJ" Harvey: In opposition to the defensive line I think the offensive line will be even better. Early on in the O-line played well, but wear and tear held the line back in the later half of the season. The five starters combined for a total of over 900 offensive snaps - which is absolutely insane. Now, Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski are gone, but Tony Matteo and a handful of other guys will make good competition to fill the voids. Assistant coachRon Crook will finally have depth and leadership at the position. Tyler Orlosky, Adam Pankey, and Marquis Lucas are quality starters, and as aforementioned a handful of backups will be more than prepared to fill the blank spots on the offensive line.
Kevin Kinder: This year, WVU will have more than two corners it can count on, making the secondary the strongest position on the team. Even the surgeries on the injured shoulders of Daryl Worley and Jarrod Harper that will keep them out of the spring could be a help, as it will allow backups, many with playing resumes, to get more quality snaps. The Mountaineers might finally, and truly, be more than two deep at every position across the back of the defense.
Up next, we look at how spring drills affected or improved each of the position groups selected, and how they may stack up in the fall.