Key Position Battles Entering Season Opener
Preseason depth charts are . . . well, preliminary.
They’re handed out by coaches a couple weeks before the season begins to satiate the media’s unquenchable thirst for real, actual football.
In West Virginia’s case, it was possible to fabricate your own depth chart before head coach Holgorsen released his very own. We already know guys like Will Grier, David Sills V and Gary Jennings have their positions locked up. But sprinkled throughout the two-deep, there are still players vying for starter’s minutes or key reserve positions.
Here are two particularly interesting position battles to watch unfold during the game on Saturday:
Defensive Line – Starters (DE: Ezekiel Rose OR Reese Donahue, Jabril Robinson; NT: Kenny Bigelow)
The defensive line may be one the most interesting groups on the entire Mountaineers team. Right off the bat, you recognize names like Rose and Donahue but the fact that defensive coordinator Tony Gibson plugged in Robinson and Bigelow into the starting lineup speaks volumes. In an effort to improve on what was a disappointing run defense from 2017, the former five-star Bigelow will assume the starting nose tackle spot but that doesn’t mean Darius Stills won’t see the field. Speaking of Stills, his younger brother and former four-star recruit Dante has already earned the praise of Gibson and is poised to make an immediate impact as a true freshman. Don’t buy into the “OR” you see between Rose and Donahue. After tallying five sacks and two takeaways last season, Rose has emerged has a true vocal and statistical leader for the Mountaineers. Baring an injury, the defensive end position is in good hands with Rose at the helm.
The real “battle” is between Robinson and Dante Stills. Stills was arguably the gem of the 2017 recruiting class and after a mere five practices, Tony Gibson declared that his prized recruit was “going to play” and maybe even start. If you trust the initial depth chart, he’s not going to start against Tennessee but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t force the coaching staff’s collective hand and earn starter’s minutes after Saturday.
Running Back – Starters (Kennedy McKoy, Martell Petteway, Alec Sinkfield, Leddie Brown)
If “battle” is the buzzword used for defining who does and who does not start come game day, consider the running back position an all-out war. And although the idea of a running back by committee approach has been tossed around, the Mountaineers will need to identify a feature back to shoulder the load. The easy choice should be McKoy after he posted 596 yards and seven touchdowns on a 4.8 yards per carry average last season. After that, you plug in Petteway, who can power his way through the line and pick up first downs and score at the goal line. The problem is that both Sinkfield and in particular Brown haven’t allowed themselves to fall behind due to the experience of Petteway and McKoy. In fact, just the opposite has happened.
On Monday, Holgorsen named Leddie Brown as one of only two true freshman that will given the “green light” to play from snap one on Saturday. At 6’1 and 210-pounds, Brown is easily the biggest back of the four listed as starters for the season opener but he may also be the most athletic.