Deployment of Forces

It doesn't seem all that long ago when the sighting of a WVU tight end or fullback seemed more rare than snake legs. In 2008, however, the depth chart at both positions filled out. The moves of several players, combined with a bonanza of a recruiting class, have left assistant coach Doc Holiday with a plethora of options. You already knew that, of course.

What you don't know is how those players will be used to fill out the required roles at both spots.

When Will Johnson was moved to the hybrid H-back position in the spring, immediate dividends were seen. Johnson, lining up both in the backfield and at various positions on the line, quickly emerged as an offensive weapon. Possessing the soft hand of a wide receiver (his former spot), the Ohio native quickly became a threat, catching swing passes, circle routes and the occasional down the hashmark deep ball. For a spot that had been defined by the rumbles of the now-departed Owen Schmitt, the new productivity was a welcome sight.

Going into the fall, that was the perception of the tight end/fullback position – a hybrid spot that could yield some added offensive punch, but still lacking the bodies to help in short yardage situations. However, that has slowly changed through fall camp, as three newcomers, combined with two veterans, could make fullback and tight end positions of strength, not afterthoughts, in the WVU offense. Tyler Urban, Ryan Clarke, Ricky Kovatch, Tyler Rader and Sam Morrone could all have roles to play in West Virginia's 2008 attack.

Again, though, you know the names. What might those roles be, and who has the leg up in each of them?

Johnson, despite his newness to the fullback position, is something of a known quantity. WVU will try to use him to create mismatches in the passing game. He'll sneak into routes while the attention follows Patrick White, Noel Devine and Jock Sanders. What he probably won't do is run the ball out of the backfield a great deal, even though he will be lining up there. That leaves a role open for a power runner that can get tough yards, and also provide lead blocking in two-back sets. Thos roles could be filled by freshmen Ryan Clarke and Ricky Kovatch. Clarke, who continues to progress in his quest to drop approximately 20 pounds from his fall reporting weight, is a rough and rowdy runner who hits the hole hard, and has the leverage to be a good blocker. Kovatch, a first-team all-Ohio selection as a senior, dropped under the recruiting radar and came to West Virginia as a walk-on, but he might not stay in that status for long, if his early play is any indication. Kovatch showed a quick aptitude for picking up WVU's remodeled offensive scheme, and is in a tight battle with Clarke for playing time. Short yardage situations, especially those on third down and in the red zone, have been a problem for West Virginia at times, one that it resolved by giving the ball to White and telling him to pick it up. While putting the ball in his hands is never a bad option, it would also be good to have another one—namely, a line-pounding runner that can grind out the third and two or fourth and goal that might make the difference in a game.

At tight end, Johnson will also line up at times, but there are now more options on the horizon. Freshman Tyler Urban has made a splash with his athleticism, showing the same sort of receiving ability as Johnson. With both on the field, WVU could put serious stress on linebackers and safeties in the passing game. Urban also has the size that Johnson lacks to be an effective blocker, so foes might not be able to solely concentrate on the pass when he's on the field.

Behind Urban, West Virginia has a pair of returnees that could definitely help in the running game. Converted tackle Tyler Rader, at 255 pounds, and utility man Sam Morrone are battling to be the second tight end in two tight end sets, which will also help with the punch required to convert those short yardage situations into first downs. Both have shown the ability to catch the ball, however, at this point, it looks as if Urban and Johnson would be the two top targets for passes.

The depth doesn't end there, either. Hard luck Max Anderson, who has battled injuries for the majority of the past two camps, is also an option at fullback when he returns to full health. Head coach Bill Stewart noted earlier this week that his team was healthy and good to go for Saturday's contest, but whether he was referring to just the depth chart, or the entire team, was unclear. What is clear is that Anderson could certainly help boost the depth in the backfield when he is ready to return.

Over the years, we have seen positions that appear loaded suddenly become thin (take, for example, West Virginia's running back situation two years ago to today). This time, the reverse is true, and the way in which WVU makes use of its newfound riches at tight end and fullback will be an interesting study in 2008.

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