Rotation will be the key here, with six or seven players slated to get quality time. At the nose, Pat Liebig and Craig Wilson are battle tested, and either could slide to the outside if necessary. Johnny Dingle and Warren Young are proven performers at the defensive end position, and Keilen Dykes is the stalwart at tackle. Add in Doug Slavonic, who should return in a couple of weeks to back up Dykes, and fast improving Scooter Berry, and the picture looks very good, despite Rich Rodriguez' avowal that he only has three or four players that he trusts at the moment.
A changing of the guard is beginning to take shape here, perhaps a bit more quickly than anticipated. Although vets like Jay Henry and Marc Magro (middle), Kevin McLee (weakside) and Bobby Hathaway (strongside) anchor the spots, several newcomers are pushing for playing time. So much so, that they might earn equal status with one or more of the veterans. Reed Williams, who knows both the strongside and middle spots, is pushing Hathaway, especially as the latter battles a foot infection. Before his spring injury, Mortty Ivy was a solid number two behind McLee, and also held down the linebacker position on the third down and long defense. Ovid Goulbourne, who earned mention several times during the spring as a player to watch, was also in the mix on the weakside, with Barry Wright slotted as a rush specialist.
As fall camp progressed, Ivy wasn't quite ready to go full bore, which resulted in some shuffling. Also, true freshman J.T. Thomas impressed to the point where he passed Goulbourne and earned a second team spot with Ivy out. Armed with at least nine players for the three positions, expect to see a number of different rotations, designed to keep WVU's players fresh and combat the strengths of opposing teams. It won't be a surprise to see linebackers in some decidedly unconventional positions on the field.
Spurs and Bandits
If there's a pair of positions with more crossover, it might be difficult to imagine. Eric Wicks looks equally at home at spur or bandit, but given their druthers, the coaches might like to see him at the latter. That leaves room at spur for John Holmes, who moved back a level from the crowded linebacker position. However, with Ridwan Malik sidelined by injury for a good portion of the fall, Wicks got time at both spots. Akeem Jackson and Aaron Meckstroth provide quality depth, but the wildcard is Charles Pugh, who might have finally shaken off the brain cramps that affected him last year. Pugh's athleticism could help make these two spots just as deep as the linebacker position, and provide much more versatility than a year ago.
This is the one position where newcomers needed to jump in and help quickly, but for the most part it didn't happen. Heralded Greg Davis missed summer sessions in order to complete his academic work and came in out of shape, and the NCAA Clearinghouse felled Guesly Dervil and Robert Williams. Even if one or the other is able to return, he has probably missed enough time to put him behind the curve for the rest of the year.
At cornerback, Antonio Lewis and Larry Williams hold down the starting job, while backup Vaughn Rivers will be the first man off the bench at either spot. Kent Richardson and newcomer Franchot Allen are vying to be the fourth reliable corner, but inconsistency has plagued both.
The good news is that safety has a pair of very capable contenders. Abraham Jones and Quinton Andrews are locked in a heated battle that has contributed to their overall improvement, and both will certainly see a good deal of playing time.
Antonio Lewis and Vaughn Rivers are the top two at both the kickoff and punt return positions. Darius Reynaud could also see some time running back kickoffs, as could Steve Slaton, who head coach Rich Rodriguez has toyed with at the spot. Fearless Jeremy Bruce is also an option as a punt returner – a critical spot that provided the winning points against East Carolina last year.