With the annual Gold-Blue spring game one week away, there is plenty of hype and buzz surrounding the Mountaineer football program. Some are wondering where the teams weaknesses may lie. The spring game gives everyone a little taste of football, which is something we have not had in over three months.
So, heading into the spring game you might wander, who will be some of the next up and coming stars?
I’ll start with redshirt freshman running back Alec Sinkfield. Sinkfield has been continuously praised for his improvement this spring by both Dana Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. With two junior backs returning (McKoy & Pettaway), do not expect Sinkfield to receive a huge dosage of carries unless the team is hit with injuries. I would expect Sinkfield to get 20-30 carries on the year and you’ll see his production increase as early as 2019.
In the passing game, look for eligible transfers Jovani Haskins (Miami) and T.J. Simmons (Alabama) as very liable options to help strengthen an already solid receiving core. Simmons will most likely be the third option behind Sills and Jennings, but I would expect Grier to look his way quite a bit. He has home run play ability with his speed in the open field and can be a Shelton Gibson-like player with the deep ball threat. Jovani Haskins will give West Virginia a body type they are not used to having around, a 6’4″ 238 lb tight end that has as good of hands as any receiver on the team.
As we all know, everything starts with the quarterback and there’s no question as to who will be under center (or in shotgun) this year for West Virginia, Will Grier, but the two battling for the backup spot are both new. Miami transfer Jack Allison was a highly rated high school recruit, but never saw any action with the Hurricanes. He will the presumed backup to Will Grier followed by true freshman quarterback Trey Lowe. It will be interesting how the coaching staff handles Trey Lowe, will they redshirt him and only burn the redshirt in an emergency situation or dress him as an active third quarterback? If it were my choice I would utilize the redshirt, unless he somehow beats out Allison for the backup spot. Lowe is a duel threat kind of guy, whereas Allison is more of your prototypical pocket passer with great touch. If all goes as planned, Grier has a healthy and successful senior season, Jack Allison becomes his successor and Trey Lowe is the future for the Mountaineers.
For the big boys up front, we will get a sneak peak of freshmen Blaine Scott (West Portsmouth, OH) and Briason Mays (Bolivar, TN). Both appear to be versatile guards in the near future, but I expect a redshirt coming for both. Redshirt freshman Tyler Thurmond will try and earn his way up the depth chart and will hopefully give offensive line coach Joe Wickline another body to use in the rotation.
If you have been following closely to any spring football news coming out of Morgantown the past week or so, you know that the Mountaineers have become extremely thin on the defensive line. Starting defensive end Adam Shuler II and reserve Jaleel Fields announced their decision to leave the team earlier in the semester and starting nose tackle Lamonte McDougle announced his departure this week. The defensive line was already hurting in the depth department before the three transfers, so this now means Tony Gibson will have to depend on some young and inexperienced guys. Some freshman will be on the way to help in June, but as for the spring game look for Penn State grad transfer Brenon Thrift to help clog up the middle at the nose position.
Linebacker seems to be the defenses strongest level heading into 2018 even with the ACL injury to senior Quandarius Qualls and Al-Rasheed Benotn graduating and heading to the NFL. Guys that have seen minimal playing time, but look to increase their role this fall are junior Adam Hensley and redshirt sophomore Zach Sandwisch. Sandwisch has seen most of his time on special teams and Hensley has been in for a few snaps here and there. Junior college transfer Charlie Benton (6’2″ 215 lbs) might be one of the biggest pieces to the success of the defense in 2018. He played some safety at Butler C.C. so his coverage skills will be a plus. Freshman Josh Chandler (5’10” 228 lbs) eerily reminds me of David Long on tape. Both shoot gaps very well and can shed blocks with no problem for being undersized at the position.
Cornerbacks coach Doug Belk has a challenge this year trying to develop enough game ready guys in a serious pass happy league. Redshirt sophomores Jake Long and Sean Mahone may be guys you haven’t heard of before, but they will depended on heavily this year. Both have an opportunity to lock down a starting spot, but will be competing against junior college transfer and former Michigan Wolverine, Keith Washington. Washington is a great cover guy and might be the guy that Coach Gibson does not mind leaving on an island, something he did not have a year ago.
The safety position will be filled with a bunch of young talent when you get to the two and three deep. Redshirt freshman E.J. Brown, Collin Smith, Ricky Johns and Exree Loe all will be fighting for a spot and all have serious potential, especially E.J. Brown who hits as hard as someone that used to wear the number eight on his jersey a few years back. Junior college transfer and former Ohio State Buckeye Josh Norwood will be one of the most skilled players in the Mountaineer secondary and look for him to gain fans attention next Saturday at the spring game.
And lastly, for special teams, we will be looking at Western Kentucky transfer and former Lou Groza Award finalist, Skyler Simcox. Simcox displays what may be the strongest leg the Mountaineers have had at the kicker position since Pat McAfee. It might be high praise, but for a guy who has already been up for a national award, it is deserving.
Be sure to follow along next weeks coverage of the Gold-Blue spring game. We will be tweeting live from Milan Puskar Stadium and will have the game recap to follow!