Flipping the Switch

A couple of days ago, we talked about the process of "the lights coming on" for football players. As the summer workout season swings into high gear, we identify five Mountaineers who might be ready to flip that switch this fall.

There aren't any standards for this process, as we discussed earlier. Likewise, there aren't any rules for determining who might be ready to make the jump. In identifying these players, we didn't try to break down how many snaps they played last year, or place any hard and fast standards on their level of play. However, in looking at some of the improvements made over the spring, and the potential depth chart for the fall, a few players appear poised to become solid contributors during the 2005 season.

One more caveat before we get started: we're not saying these guys are going to be all-conference selections (although one or more could be). They are just players who haven't achieved a lot on the field to this point in their careers, but could be ready to make their mark on the Mountaineer program. One other guideline: No freshmen or redshirt freshmen are included, because their careers are just getting underway.

Akeem Jackson: The junior bandit did earn a letter last year, but that was mostly for his special teams play. This spring, however, the Elizabeth, N.J. native got the chance to get all the reps he wanted, as Mike Lorello, who could move to that spot this fall to make room for Eric Wicks, recovered from surgery. Jackson didn't make a quantum leap during the spring, but did show steady improvement from week to week, and now could be counted on to provide solid depth at this critical position. If Jackson can do so, it would also free teammate Ridwan Malik to fill in as a sub at free safety on occasion.

Kevin McLee: Linebacker McLee is in a bit of a different situation. He started seven games last year and was certainly a factor in WVU's defensive success, as he recorded 44 tackles, including six behind the line of scrimmage and two sacks. However, this spring McLee finally seemed to grasp many of the nuances of the defense that had escaped him in previous campaigns. When he plays with the confidence that comes form knowing the scheme and reacting automatically, McLee is one of the best backers in the league. If there's a guy who could leap onto the league honor charts, it's Boo.

Rayshawn Bolden: Bolden's development will be more closely watched than most, because, quite honestly, the Mountaineers desperately need help at wide receiver. Bolden did have four starts last season, but he didn't catch a pass until the Gator Bowl, when he hauled in a 49-yard bomb from backup quarterback Charles Hales late in the contest. The question is, was that a one-time fluke, or an indicator of things to come?

In order to be more productive, Bolden must be more consistent. He has the talent, the height and the frame to be a good outside receiver in the Mountaineer offense, but he has to use that talent on every snap – be it in games or practice. That's not something that comes easily, but if Bolden can do it, he could be one of the biggest stories of the season.

Abraham Jones: Like Patrick White on the offensive side of the ball, Jones saved his best performance for the spring game. In addition to making several crisp tackles from his free safety position, "Ham" recovered an Owen Schmitt tackle and returned it 91 yards for a touchdown, which was easily the defensive play of the day.

Jones, like Bolden, must become more consistent if he is to nail down the backup free safety spot behind Jahmile Addae. He still hesitates at times before committing to his course of action – a problem that can be fatal when you are the last line of defense. He showed signs of that in the Gold-Blue contest, and if he can continue that this fall, the Mountaineers' worries about depth at free will be alleviated.

Warren Young: To be frank, this is the shakiest pick of the lot. Young has tremendous talent, but has yet to show the everyday discipline and work ethic needed to be an effective member of the defensive line. Young could be a player that is motivated by competition. WVU's well-stocked defensive line has a number of players that are battling for time, and if the big Alabamian isn't careful, he will get lost in the shuffle. Will that be the thing that finally revs Young's motor into high gear?

As you read through these profiles, certain similarities come to mind. All of the players discussed here are talented. They have the raw ability to be contributors, if not stars. They have reached varying levels of achievement during their careers, but need to make that next step as they enter their junior seasons. While many questions remain about West Virginia football fortunes in 2005, on thing is certain. If the light comes on for this quintet, WVU will have at least some of the answers they are searching for.

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