Sunday, October 23, 2016

Friday column: WVUPros in the NFL – White, Smith, O’Toole and Kwiatkoski

Introducing what I hope to make a weekly column on Fridays: a look at West Virginia Mountaineers in the NFL. This week I give you the latest on Kevin White, Geno Smith, Nick O’Toole, and Nick Kwiatkoski.

During the offseason, as players go through organized team activities and go about their lives, readers want to know what their status is as far as their teams and sometimes what they are doing off the field. Let’s get started.

Kevin White – For years, the Mountaineers have found gold in the form of junior college transfers. In recent years, two of those–Bruce Irvin and Kevin White–have gone on to become first round draft picks. White came to Morgantown by way of Lackawanna College where he played one season. In that year, he caught 36 passes for 545 yards and six touchdowns all while creating a highlight film that caught the Mountaineers’ coaching staff’s attention.

“I learned a lot about football smarts … understanding coverages, scheme, different ways to set defenders up,” White told the media before his ceremony at halftime of Lackawanna’s spring game at Scranton High School’s Memorial Stadium. “I enjoyed the game from a different standpoint. Mentally I was there and in tune with all of the meetings. Obviously, I couldn’t play, but it was still a great learning experience.”

Geno Smith – The Jets are in a quandry. At the moment, their starting QB from last season, Ryan Fitzpatrick, is still an unrestricted free-agent. Contract talks with the the team have stalled. At the moment, the team has Geno Smith’s name penciled in as the starter. Going into OTA’s, someone will have to work with the first-team offense under center. While Smith seems to have lost the support of the front office, and to a lesser degree, Jets fans, he still has the backing of his teammates.

“A hundred percent confident in Geno,” Jets leading receiver Brandon Marshall told NJ Advance Media on Tuesday. “I think he’s grown so much from the first conversation I had with him, before I got traded [from Chicago last offseason], and also since [early] last year when we were roommates.

“He’s an ultimate pro right now. I don’t know if that’s always been the answer [about him]. But I’m just so proud of the kid, because the areas where he’s been challenged, he’s grown and gotten better.”

Smith spent most of last season holding a clipboard on the sidelines after missing the preseason and losing his starting job due to an infamous broken jaw. While we only saw him in action once last season, his teammates have seen how he has practiced and went about his business.

“To see him in game-type situations would be exciting, because I feel like his confidence is back,” Jets receiver Eric Decker said. “He has developed a skill set. I think [from] being with Ryan, he learned to study the game a lot better. So I’ve got confidence in him. I just hope that he keeps pushing himself to learn the game mentally.

“I got a lot of work [with Smith] that first year and even in the offseason [last year],” Decker said. “He was developing. He was making strides.”

Nick O’Toole – The rookie punter looks to join the many notable kickers WVU has sent to the NFL, including Todd Nick O'TooleSauerbrun, Mike Vanderjagt, and Pat McAfee. The “Boomstache” joined the Minnesota Vikings after going undrafted. He is in rookie minicamp this week, looking to earn his shot at competing against incumbent Jeff Locke.

The team brought in one other punter, Texas Tech’s Taylor Symmank for minicamp, and they plan on signing one.

“Talking with [coach Mike Zimmer], he said Jeff [Locke] has one more year on his contract and we’ll see what happens,” O’Toole said. “He said for me and Taylor to come in and compete and whoever is the better punter this weekend will be signed and that guy is going to compete with Jeff. And that guy could win the job or he could just have his name out there for other teams to see.

“It’s a great opportunity for me. I like my odds.”

It was notable, at least to WVU fans, to see O’Toole show up at the NFL Combine sans his signature facial hair. He says if he makes it onto the Vikings roster, he will attempt to grow it back.

Nick Kwiatkoski – The Bears selected Kwiatkoski in the fourth round of the draft to add depth at linebacker. He will back up to recent free-agent signees, Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman. Like many rookies, the former WVU linebacker will have to make the most of playing on special teams.

“That’s going to be a big deal for me,” Kwiatkoski said. “Special teams is something I’ve always enjoyed.

“The biggest thing is just to learn,” he said. “It’s a new defense, new scheme, new teammates, new everything. My biggest thing here is to learn the defense, to get comfortable in it and know what’s going on around me. “

Check back next week for the latest on some of your favorite WVUPros in the NFL.



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