Having a deep group of receivers was supposed to be one of West Virginia’s biggest strengths coming into this college football season.
However, through three games that depth has not really come into play yet for the Mountaineers. The vast majority of WVU’s wide receiver production has come from just three players — sophomores Sam James, Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Winston Wright.
Speaking with the media Tuesday afternoon, West Virginia coach Neal Brown said he expects to get more receivers involved this Saturday against Kansas.
“We didn’t play good enough at wideout and so I think you’ll see more people play at those spots,” Brown said. “It depends on who produces this week in practice who’s going to start the game, but we do plan on playing more and the reps will probably be a little more evenly distributed than they were maybe the last two games.”
On the season, WVU receivers have combined to catch 57 passes for 665 yards and four touchdowns. James, Wright and Ford-Wheaton have combined to make 40 of those 57 receptions (70.2%), 448 of the 665 yards (67.4%) and all four touchdowns.
The next most productive receiver has been senior T.J. Simmons, who has 82 yards on four catches. All of Simmons’ catches came in just one game, against Oklahoma State. Behind him are freshmen Sam Brown (four catches, 43 yards), Reese Smith (five catches, 41 yards) and Greason Malashevich (one catch, 30 yards).
Noticeably quiet so far this season have been Sean Ryan, Ali Jennings and Isaiah Esdale, all returners from last season. Ryan, Jennings and Esdale have combined for just 21 yards on three receptions.
Offensive coordinator Gerad Parker explained that Jennings has been working to recovering from an injury.
“Ali’s coming back from a pretty significant hamstring that he’s had to manage so he’s working himself back into it,” Parker said.
Jennings made his only catch of the season against Baylor. As for Ryan and Esdale, Parker said it is more a question of consistency from them.
“Sean’s been inconsistent and really as he develops a consistency to him and learns how to practice the right way every day, which we’ve talked at length about, I think he can really play at a high level for us,” Parker explained. “Isaiah is the same thing, just developing consistent practice habits to find a way to find reps on the field to help us on game day. All three of them are still grinding, battling and fighting in a good room that we’ve all got to develop full consistency in.”
Jennings, Ryan and Esdale all made at least 15 receptions and gained at least 170 yards last season.
WVU also has Middle Tennessee transfer Zack Dobson available this season, although Neal Brown said he still is not quite up to speed after joining the team late this fall.
“I’d say he’s not ready to go out on Saturdays yet,” Brown said. “He’ll definitely help us in the future, but hopefully, we can get him to a spot where he can help us later in the year but it’s not going to be this week.”
Overall, Brown said he expects all of WVU’s receivers to perform better following the team’s second off week.
“I think we will play better, the receivers practiced much better last week, we’ll see how this week goes,” Brown said. “My expectation is we’ll be much improved at that spot.”
“Those reps are going to trade out and it’s going to be a good chance for everybody to get on the field and play in different spots,” Parker added.