West Virginia Tries Bigger Bodies At Slot In Effort To Increase Rushing Production, Gain Better Match-Ups

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia has changed the type of receiver it uses on the inside and outside, and it expects those moves to aid in the running game.

For years, the ideal was always that the smaller, jitterbug type players manned the slot positions, while the lankier, longer and bigger wideouts played on the outside. That allowed for better size downfield on longer throws, while typically maximizing the quickness element needed to operate in the more confined space at the slot. But that created a problem in blocking schemes, when offenses tasked the 5-8, 175 pound players with sealing the edge or moving a 6-2, 230 pound outside linebacker.

As one defensive coordinator often point out, that gives guys headaches after awhile. The solution, if the correct body type and skillset presented itself, was to move bigger players on the inside. For West Virginia, former receiver Daikiel Shorts fit that mold perfectly. At 6-1 and 202 pounds his senior season, the sure-handed Shorts was not only a crisp route runner and essential safety blanket in the passing game, but also a solid blocker when WVU chose to rush the ball. That tactic has segued into David Sills moving back inside at the 'Y' receiver position behind Gary Jennings. At 6-3, 201 pounds, Sills can match-up with linebackers if he can master technique and playing with a lower pad level, while his understanding of the passing game nuances is enhanced because of his former play as a quarterback.

"Back when I played we had to block those 'backers and it wasn't always pretty," said WVU receivers coach Tyron Carrier, who had a prolific collegiate career at Houston under then-Cougars coordinator Dana Holgorsen. "You lost a lot of those battles. Now you have bigger bodies in there and they can handle it a little more. That will help the running backs. It will spring them a little better. The smaller guys have a harder time getting in there and digging out those 'backers. But put some bigger bodies in there instead of those little guys and you've got some answer to it.

"(Sills) has been really valuable to us given the quarterback point of view," Carrier added. "He helps the guys understand what the quarterback sees. He told me, he said 'Coach, I never knew playing receiver was so hard until you actually play it, then you realize how much thinking goes into the process. How deep you are supposed to be, the right angles you are supposed to take.' He never thought of it. I begged him to be a receiver and he didn't want to listen. Then I got a text one night from Daikiel and he said David wants to come back and play receiver. And I said 'Oh, now he listens.' It's instant leadership because he has been here. They all love him."

The Mountaineers have also tried to bulk Jovon Durante up from his listed weight of just 164 pounds over a 5-11 frame. Durante has played both inside and outside for WVU in his first two seasons, and while listed at the 'Z' position behind the injured Ka'Raun White, might also slide back inside at times. Durante managed 35 catches for 331 yards last season with two scores. Durante has showed flashes at times, but struggled to consistently get off the line against press coverage, an aspect bettered only be increased strength and technique work.

"Eat," Carrier said of Durante's main goals during spring and summer. "Me and him talk about consistency a lot, with weight and play. You gotta get us to trust you a lot to get the ball play after play. That's one of the biggest things, consistency with Jovon. We are working on (press coverage). To me, he was able to manage it last year when guys waked up into his face. It's the point of executing it over and over against and not panicking. A lot of times kids, they lose all their thought when things start happening fast. it's getting them to the point where they can slow down and execute what we teach."

Durante actually ranked fourth on the team in receptions and yards last season, and totaled three or more catches in eight games. He finished with three catches for 22 yards with a long of 13 yards against Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl, though those numbers need to increase this season with the loss of Shelton Gibson. Sans its top vertical threat, West Virginia needs Durante's speed to stress defenses both horizontally and vertically.

"I have to get bigger first of all," Durante said. "I have to work on my size and everything, and most importantly my pad level. That’s basically it. Being bulked up a little bit, I can absorb the hits and everything. I can be healthy for a full season, so that’s one of the main reasons why I’m trying to get bulked up."

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