The Mountaineers will be without placekicker Josh Lambert for the nonconference portion of the schedule after his three-game suspension for violating the Big 12's eligibility rules. But don't think just because Mike Molina will handle the early duties that the competition for the position is over. Head coach Dana Holgorsen made it clear that if Molina performs well in games, he could retain the position even upon Lambert's return.
"Josh Lambert, in his situation, I can't speak highly enough about him and how he has handled it and really taking some of those younger guys under his wing," special teams coach Mark Scott said. "He's almost like an extra coach out there."
Add that to the ongoing battle at long snapper and holder, and for the first team punting job, and very little of the pure special teams positions have been decided. That's also the case with with punt and kick return, where Scott is trying a series of players to see which best fits the situation. The most obvious candidate to return punts is receiver Gary Jennings, but freshmen Marcus Simms and Steven Smothers have been given chances, as has junior college transfer Justin Crawford, along with a handful of other players. Shelton Gibson and Jovon Durante figure heavily at kickoff return, as does William Crest and Dravon Askew-Henry.
It's an area that has yielded a handful of big plays, but also been suspect at times. It took K.J. Dillon a handful of games to settle in and consistently make good decisions last season, and the year before punt return proved such a big adventure that at one point the Mountaineers didn't even place a deep man on the field.
"(Sunday) was the first time we really started throwing guys at them and seeing if they could still focus and find the ball and make good decisions in terms of fair catching things like that," Scott said. "We will continue to progress with that and get those guys as many reps as we can. I don't think we've ever had more options than we do right now. It's just trying to whittle down to two maybe three guys so we can really hone in on those guys getting reps, and our schemes and what fits what they do best."
At long snapper, Nick Meadows is trying to fend off newcomer R.C. Brunstetter, and thus far the Williamstown, W.Va. native - who snapped against Towson last season - is holding down the starting job. Scott said WVU's times were steadily dropping as Meadows and holder Billy Kinney get comfortable with Molina. Meadows will also likely handle the long snapping for punts, and those have been accurate with solid times as Kinney jostles with freshman Jonn Young to start. Kinney, Scott said, has seemed like a new player since spring as he has gained a comfort level with collegiate practices and the demands of the position at this level.
Young, out of Davie County High in Advance, NC, was the No. 1 rated kicker in the state by Scout.com, and rated fourth in the South Region and 7th nationally. The issue early for the freshman has been gaining enough control to properly direct and harness that leg strength to better place the ball accurately.
"Jonn Young has an unbelievable leg, and he's showcased that just about every day," Scott said. "We still need to work on little things like consistency and getting into our schemes when we directionally punt it. Jonn coming in has pushed (Kinney). We have a good little competition going on there. It's like they are matching each other kick for kick. We still ave some things to do fundamentally. We have to get them to understand we don't need a 55-yard punt every time if it's not where we want the ball placed to match up with coverage. So it's just getting the whole picture. They have gotten better throughout the first six days of camp."