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Meet the Mountaineers: Seldom-Used Tight Ends and Fullbacks Still Play Important Roles

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Meet the Mountaineers is a series previewing every position on West Virginia’s football team for 2020. Every day we will focus on a different position group and look at all the players we will see there in 2020. We finished off the offensive line yesterday, talking about the center and guard positions. Tomorrow we will start on the defense with the defensive coaching staff.

Although you will not see them catch many passes or throw a lot of lead blocks, tight end and fullbacks actually do play an important role for West Virginia football.

Take last season’s starting full back Logan Thimons for example. Thimons was only used on 105 offensive plays all season. Across 12 games that averages out to nine snaps per game, if you round up. In comparison, Thimons played 231 snaps on special teams, including one against NC State in which he blocked a punt. 

When you consider starting tight end Mike O’Laughlin had more than double the number of offensive snaps as Thimons (255) and yet still played 112 snaps on special teams, you start to see how important these roles really are.

This is not to say that WVU has never had offensively productive tight ends. In 2018, tight ends Trevon Wesco and Jovani Haskins combined to catch 42 passes for 514 yards and two touchdowns. Haskins returned to the team in 2019, but had legal issues in the offseason and eventually entered his name into the transfer portal.

That gave way for O’Laughlin, a redshirt-freshman, to start last season. Despite only making six receptions for 24 yards, head coach Neal Brown has said he like O’Laughlin’s future.

“I think O’Laughlin’s got a really bright future here,” Brown said on signing day. “He started 10 games as a redshirt-freshman.”

Even with Thimons graduating, there are some options behind O’Laughlin. Both T.J. Banks and Jackson Knipper played in fours games last season, both used sparsely on offense and special teams. Brown also added tight end recruit Charles Finley in December.

Key Departures:

Jovani Haskins – Transfer

Logan Thimons – Graduation

Returning Players (2019 Stats):

R-So. Mike O’Laughlin (6 catches, 24 yards)

R-Jr. Jackson Knipper

R-So. T.J. Banks

Additions:

Fr. Charles Finley

Camp Battles:

With a limited number of offensive snaps to go around, O’Laughlin, Knipper and Banks will be fighting for every spot on the depth chart in camp. If the roster listing are any indication, O’Laughlin is listed as both a tight end and fullback, while Banks is just a tight end and Knipper is just a fullback. With limited depth at either spot, all four, including Finley, should get a good amount of run in the leadup to Fall.

Projected Starters:

R-So. Mike O’Laughlin – TE

R-Jr. Jackson Knipper – FB

O’Laughlin more or less already as the starting tight end job locked down. Even if Finley or Banks had a breakout camp, O’Laughlin played well enough last season to secure a portion of the tight end snaps for 2020 no matter what. With O’Laughling playing tight end, Knipper should get most, if not all, of the fullback snaps this season. A Western Michigan transfer prior to last season, Knipper has played in eight career games. Most importantly, however, O’Laughling, Knipper and Banks will all see a ton of playing time on special teams regardless of who starts.

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Cody spent the last two years getting his master's degree in journalism from WVU. He graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2018 with a degree in digital media production. He was born and raised in Mercer, Pennsylvania.

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