Under the Gun

What West Virginia's wideouts lacked last year they must have this season.

A new quarterback, little depth on the offensive line and two newcomers for the already bruising backfield have forced emphasis on the hard-nosed edge play promoted by head coach Rich Rodriguez.

Mountaineer wideouts never delivered the promised-land combo of blue-collar blocking and athletic pass catching under former position coach Steve Bird. Now they have a fresh start under new hire Butch Jones, and both the coach and his unit are looking for physicality first and play-making second.

"These kids have to take great pride, maybe more in springing a block than in catching a touchdown pass," Jones said. "That's the type of attitude and team concept that we need."

Where Bird landed somewhere between Rodriguez' rants and Don Nehlen's aw-shucks shtick, Jones is the soft-spoken mentor on a team full of drill instructors.

"I really like his mentality," Rodriguez said. "He can just talk to kids, work with them. Sometimes if you get too many yellers, nobody can hear anything."

Such might have been the case under Bird, whose style leaned toward Rodriguez' without getting results. Blame academic casualties or major attrition; whatever the reason, West Virginia's wideouts have been sorely lacking in physical play and mid-range catches.

Jones has a moldable group with enough talent and muscle to amp up the WVU's powerless passing game.

The finally ready-to-erupt Brandon Myles and 6-5 deep threat Rayshawn Bolden give Jones two pillars at the slot and outside spots, respectively. Dwayne Thompson, moved over from quarterback, could be the most athletic of the bunch. He also possesses the best hands of any of the potential passcatchers. Combine converted defensive backs Joe Hunter and Vaughn Rivers with speedster Darius Reynaud and the 6-3 Brandon Tate and the corps is formidable enough to compete better than it has.

Newcomer Jeremy Bruce and wild cards Tito Gonzales and Dorrell Jollah add depth.

"The kids are eager to learn," Jones said. "They have been very good students of the game and came with focus and preparation. They want to get better and we have to. They understand the importance of blocking. Whatever you stress becomes important, and we are stressing playing with great physical toughness."

If Jones can stick that point, WVU's strong running attack could have enough juice to get by the Orange. If not, it could be another year of stuck-in-a-rut play calling and big-game frustration. West Virginia's wide receivers have, for the past few years, always been tagged with that most undefineable of words -- potential. Whether this is the year they finally live up to it remains to be seen.

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