Slotting Them In

West Virginia's 31-member recruiting class, one of the largest in memory, should meet a number of pressing needs as the Mountaineers rebuild a squad which lost 22 seniors, two juniors, and at least four other scholarship players or contributors from the 2004 team. Although head coach Rich Rodriguez did not single out any players that could avoid a redshirt during the 2005 season, it appears as if a number of players will have the chance to see the field during their initial college year.

The obvious candidates include punter Scott Kozlowski and placekicker Pat McAfee, who are the first pair of kickers to accept scholarship offers from WVU in the same season in at least 25 years. While they certainly won't be handed the starting jobs, they are expected to be part of an open competition for the punting, placekicking and kickoff jobs. Walkon Colby James, who had a recent tryout with West Virginia, could also have an impact on the kickoff battle.

The thinnest position, in terms of depth, might be wide receiver, where only a handful of pass catchers from the previous season remain. Brandon Myles, Rayshawn Bolden and Joe Hunter are the only wideouts with any sort of experience, and with Dwayne Thompson moving back to quarterback for the spring, the ranks there will only be thinner. And while redshirt freshmen such as Dorrell Jalloh and Tito Gonzalez, along with nonqualifiers Brandon Tate, Brandon Barrett and Darius Reynaud will get their chance this spring and fall, speedy necomers such as Darren Brownlee and Jeremy Bruce may also get an opportunity to play during 2005.

The linebacker position is also in need of some buttressing, and that need was addressed as well, with no fewer than four players from the 2005 Class slated to begin work at that position, including Zac Cooper, Ovid Goulbourne, Steve Weedon and Reed Williams. Weedon will almost certainly not qualify to play in 2004, but the other three could see spot duty as they fight for spots on the two deep. As of now, Kevin McLee, Jay Henry, Mortty Ivy, Bobby Hathaway and recent scholarship recipient Jeff Noechel figure to be the top returning competitors at that position, where they could be joined by Eric Wicks, who may move down from his spur position during the spring to test the waters as well.

The glamour position, quarterback, will likely get most of the attention during the spring and fall, as the Mountaineer staff looks to replace the departed Rasheed Marshall, who led WVU through one of its most successful periods in history. While returnees Adam Bednarik (out for the spring following shoulder surgery), Patrick White and Thompson figure to have an advantage due to their time in the system, signees Jarrett Brown, T. J. Mitchell and Nathan Sowers will all get a chance to make an impression in the early stages of fall camp. Overcoming all that experience will be a difficult task, however, and they will have to make their marks quickly in order to stay off the redshirt list during the upcoming season.

Of course, no one is expecting five-star recruit Jason Gwaltney to redshirt, but it's not as if the starting job is going to be handed to him. Jason Colson and Pernell Williams aren't going to just roll over and give up, and Erick Phillips could make it a three-way race if he can get over the injury/rehabilitation hump that has blocked his return to the field. Also, Maryland running back Steve Slaton and Florida standout Jetavious Best put up excellent numbers as seniors, and aren't going to back down from the challenge the Gwaltney and the returning backs are sure to mount.

Finally, there could be room for one defensive back, either at corner, free safety or bandit, from the incoming class on this year's depth chart. The early departure of Adam Jones, plus the possible shuffling of players among the back five positions on the defense, may well present an opportunity for a cornerback or bandit to step in and play early. A player such as Marquis Melvin, who could play either spot, might have the best chance to make the leap from high school to college without sitting out a season.


Linebacker Jeff Noechel and tight end/fullback Brad Palmer have been awarded scholarships.

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Offensive linemen Dan Mozes and Jeremy Sheffey are scheduled for surgery soon, and could miss spring drills. Both are expected to return for the fall.

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