Impact Makers

West Virginia's offensive one-two punch wasn't found until midway through last season, and even then, it took injuries at key times for Patrick White and Steve Slaton to secure the positions and lead WVU's stirring seven-consecutive-win finish. The question now is who will be this fall's surprise of the year, the Mountaineer who elevates himself enough to help Flagship U. and amaze fans?

It reads here that the obvious selection is Quinton Andrews, to whom, it seems, all but the coaches and players are ready to hand the free safety position – or, in reality, all those that actually matter. It wouldn't, then, be much of a surprise to most fans to see the freshman in the starting role against Marshall Sept. 2, with senior Abraham Jones relegated to a reserve role. The upperclassman, however, has said he'll battle Andrews well, and West Virginia seems well-stocked at the slot.

It would behoove us to look at areas where WVU actually needs depth, and get players' take on who could supply it, and those that might be able to manage a starting role with surprising ability. The most notable spot is at offensive tackle, where Jake Figner and former walk-on Damien Crissey currently figure to play. Only Jon Walko is behind them, but beyond that, the word is that current tight end Selvish Capers is a more-than-capable tackle prospect who still wants a try at the tight end spot.

If Capers were to decide to slide in one position, he would likely have more playing time and, the rumor goes, all the physical tools to play even at the next level, be that the NFL or a variant professional league. Sometimes, like in the case of former quarterback Dwayne Thompson and the new-departed T. J. Mitchell, coaches must allow players time to prove to themselves that they fit better in another position or can see more time with a move. Capers was also one of WVU's final prop players, and could be granted another year should he graduate on time.

This is, it reads here, less of a worry because of assistant head and offensive line coach Rock Trickett's proven ability to maximize any talent and piece together a solid core unit with players in the correct positions. Some of the piecing, it must be written, does have to do with players quitting because of his coaching style. But the players he keeps bust it and will work for West Virginia every down. Look for some more of Trickett's magic during fall drills, and hope for no further injuries.

Another depth need is also along the line, this time on the defensive side. West Virginia lost Andrae Wright to personal problems and is thinner in the trenches than expected. The Mountaineers were hoping to rotate three different lines, or two with some changes every third series or so, but Wright's loss, tackle Keilen Dykes said, has nixed that idea. Instead, it will play two lines and mix in fewer players.

"That hurts, because he was a big guy in there," Dykes said. "But Scooter Berry can play. He is coming along there, and you look at Pat Liebig, he has become a man there at nose tackle. Craig Wilson is proven. What we really want to do is stay fresh, keep it coming in waves, and we can still do that somewhat."

Defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich finally has enough bodies to begin a solid rotation. West Virginia is far deeper than it was when it went into the Gator Bowl versus Maryland with three healthy linemen. It can mix and match for situations, and also will add end Johnny Dingle, which increases the speed and athletic ability of the line. The unit is certainly not where Kirelawich would like it to be (nothing ever is with the coach), but it has the makings of something special if it can get solid snaps (roughly 10 per game) from another player.

An under-publicized problem is backfield depth. Slaton is the surefire starter, and White's the quarterback. But Adam Bednarik is out for the year due to his surgery recovery time, and WVU lost Pernell Williams and Tyler Benoit – the latter of whom they had to move from defense just to shore up the depth problem – to academics in the offseason.

"That is a concern for us," fullback Owen Schmitt said. "We won't be as fresh as we would have. You would like for those guys to be able to play some snaps just to give us a break. Jason Colson can play, he has showed that, and you hope a guy like Ed Collington comes in and does things like Steve did his freshman year."

Collington, out of Penn Hills High in Pittsburgh, is a 6-0, 200-pounder who led the WPIAL with 1,700 yards and 22 scores as a senior. He has not played since 2004, however, and will need time and reps to get used to both the physical pounding and the speed of the Mountaineer offense. Jetavious Best could also be relied upon for snaps if the injury bug hits, and Schmitt could even slide into the spot to spell Slaton if needed, which is a strong possibility considering the Sugar Bowl MVP has yet to play and take the pounding of a full college season. Slot receiver Jeremy Bruce will also take superback snaps during fall camp.

"I like all the new guys," Best said. "We have spoken and worked out together. We're all cool. I am trying to help them along and keep improving myself. It's just a daily battle, but there are no hard feelings. We're all just trying to improve each other."

The backup quarterbacks are Jarrett Brown and Nate Sowers, who has shown surprising running ability. The No. 2 slot will be contested throughout fall camp, but this is another area where one injury could severely hurt the Mountaineers. Neither Brown nor Sowers has even taken a live college snap. That did not seem to hurt White, (he did throw two interceptions against East Carolina) but one can never tell how players will react.

The fact that Bruce and Colson are taking reps at running back and slot receiver mean they are not able to focus on one position. That hurts, and should wideout Brandon Barrett not make the grades needed to be eligible, West Virginia would be down to five full-time receivers who have seen game action and can be depended upon to make plays. Ryan Dawson and Carmen Connolly can add depth here, but look for incoming freshman John Maddox and Wes Lyons to challenge for time. Lyons, especially, is a physically-gifted player who, at 6-7 (though listed as 6-6), seems a prime target for downfield jump balls and fade routes in the end zone. He is not the fastest wideout because he is still getting his legs under him from the growth spurts he has had. But he blocks well, which is what really sold WVU's coaches.

The holder position must also be replaced, though it seems Travis McClintic, reserve quarterback Markell Harrison and Connolly will be more than adequate. Said placekicker Pat McAfee: "They all look good. Travis' holds have been right there, and we're working like we have done this before. It's true you don't just replace a holder like George Shehl, but we're doing everything right right now. The snaps are there (Tim Lindsey), and holds are there. The rest is up to me."

Also, corners Antonio Lewis and Larry Williams should transition to starting roles well, and the bandit and spur slots seemed stocked. Leyonne Price will challenge Aaron Meckstroth for a reserve role behind Johnny Holmes, and Wicks' flip to bandit, the position vacated by the graduated Mike Lorello, was an unselfish move that will very much help West Virginia, whose secondary seems to have enough unproven talent. Head coach Rich Rodriguez has said that Wicks could be the best safety he has ever coached if he continues to improve.

Linebacker Reed Williams could also make a push for time. He has continually impressed with his ability to run, and that unit might have the most game-savvy players of any. The full recovery and swift return of Mortty Ivy from ACL surgery would be a major boost.

So, the short list is essentially the very-gifted Andrews, a tight end that could be tackle in Capers, the depth-providing Berry along the line and an emerging starter in Liebig. Collington, Maddox and Lyons will help the receiving corps, as could Barrett if he makes the grade. Williams will be a player at linebacker, the corners should be fine, and the quarterbacks, who will certainly get enough coverage, need an emerging second-teamer. That's a 10-player stockpile of West Virginia needs, desires and must haves to at least look its best on paper prior to the season-opener.

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