The names are familiar. The production, uneven. That leaves West Virginia's wide receiving corps in a similar position to its offensive line as it enters 2017 spring football practice.
Our classifications, as a starting point:
Starter: Players with established Division I starting experience
Contributor: Players with significant backup time on the field on offense or defense
Unproven: Those with only special teams experience or minimal playing time
STARTERS: Ka'Raun White's 48 catches for 583 yards puts him in ths category, but a spate of late season drops and inconsistent play also leave him a lot of room for improvement. He's determined to forge his own legacy at WVU, despite repeated queries about that of his brother Kevin, and this front end of his last season as a Mountaineer, will be very important in that regard -- not to mention as to the fortunes of the team.
The consistency question really comes into play with Jovon Durante, who was a starter last year but whose productivity plummeted after a good start. He caught 13 passes in games three and four of the year, but never snared more than three in the final eight games of the season. He's shown he can produce on the field -- now he has to show he can be a consistent five- or six-catch-per-game performer.
BACKUPS: Gary Jennings is on the field a lot, but anything more than one catch per game has been rare. This is an important spring for him -- he needs to develop a rapport with the quarterbacks, and show that he can get open and make plays when called upon. There just weren't many options or targets for him a year ago. He must be more aggressive entering his third year in the program, and be more than just a third receiver on the field.
UNPROVEN: Marcus Simms had an encouraging performance during the spring of 2015, but didn't quite approach that level of promise once the real games began. That's certainly ok, and not a knock, but six catches for 95 yards and one TD doesn't make him a bell cow in the receiving corps. There's a lot to like about his game, but getting that to show up every day in the spring is a vital next step.
It might surprise some that David Sills is placed in this group, but his numbers two years ago (seven catches, 131 yards, two TDs) are similar to those of Simms. Was it great that he decided to come back to WVU? Without question. But now, after a year of playing quarterback, he will have to reintegrate himself into the wide receiver role, accustom himself to a new coach, and then see if he can make plays against Big 12 secondaries.
Two other familiar names are those of Stephen Smothers and Ricky Rogers, who are at opposite ends of the eligibility scale. Smothers has gotten a redshirt from last year, so he has four years remaining, and that will prove big over the course of his development. Can he be a midfield weapon early in his career? Rogers got a few snaps last year, but the clock is ticking fast on his time at WVU. With just two seasons of eligibility remaining, this spring may be the do-or-die time for the Pennsylvania native.
Junior college receiver Dominique Maiden is also on hand for the spring, and hopes to show that he can be a downfield threat to help replace the departed Shelton Gibson. As is always the case with jucos, he'll have to contend with a higher level of opposition, and despite his height and reach advantage, he'll have to show that he can leverage those assets here.
A host of walk-ons will also be in the mix, but with such a crowd of contenders in front of them, they'll have a tough time getting noticed.
With 14 receivers on the spring roster, not including players like Tevin Bush who may get work at both running back and receiver, the field will be crowded as compared to some past seasons. That's a good thing, as it should produce competition while skills are being developed, but it also puts more pressure on the players, as they will have to take advantage of every chance they have to impress. There's also the factor of developing rapport with the quarterback group, which might be the most important task of the spring. Whatever receivers emerge atop the depth chart, they have to find that rhythm and sense of trust with the passers -- and that will in turn contribute to their ability to stake out a spot in the receiver rotation.
We'll also be watching the number of receivers in WVU's offensive sets. As the attack as morphed over the past couple of years to a bigger emphasis on the run, passing attempts have targeted a lesser range of receivers. Could that portend sets with more two backs, or (gasp) two backs and a tight end? Head coach Dana Holgorsen hinted at some surprises in the spring, but how much of that was toying with the media and how much a reflection of actual changes remains to be seen. Still, one potential could be fewer wideouts on the field at a time, and that would intensify the competition even more.
There's also the matter of delineating slot receivers vs. wideouts. For newcomers and walk-ons, that's a winnowing down process, as receivers coach Tyron Carrier, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital and Holgorsen determine the players that fit at each position best -- or, in a few cases, those who can swing between both. That is not the preferred modus operandi, as Holgorsen has stated several times that he prefers to have his receivers concentrate on either the inside or outside positions, but there's not an outright ban on role-sharing either.
The player to watch in this area is Jovon Durante, who started his career on the outside but played in the slot last year. Will he stay there, providing a bigger target in the middle of the field, or might he go back to the outside? As with the offensive linemen, receivers will get looks at different spots through the month.
Previously In The Spring Series: