MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Heading into every football season, teams have their questions but West Virginia has a new coaching staff and a lot of new faces on this season’s squad, raising lots of concerns in several areas.
The Mountaineers are without quarterback Will Grier. Last season he finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
On the season, the Charlotte, NC native threw for 3,864 yards and 37 touchdowns. He ranked first in the Big 12 and seventh in the country in completions per game, hitting 266 of 397 attempts.
The loss of Grier leaves big shoes to fill for whoever takes over the reins at WVU.
When fall camp rolls around, the Mountaineers will have five men on the roster bidding for the job: Jack Allison, Austin Kendall, Jarret Doege, Trey Lowe and Trent Jackson.
Doege has the most experience out of the five. In 2017, he started five games as a true freshman at Bowling Green. Last year the 6-foot-2, 198-pounder started in all 12 games for the Falcons.
During his tenure at Bowling Green, he completed 362-of-577 passes (62.7 percent) for 4,041 yards with 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. After the season, he parted ways with the school after a coaching change.
Doege transferred to WVU over the summer and will likely have to sit out the season unless his appeal to play immediately is approved, which is still pending.
Jackson is a walk-on who only saw action on the scout team last season.
As a senior at Steubenville (Ohio), he led the Red Riders in passing yards (2,174 yards) but he isn’t expected to compete for the starting job.
Allison saw action in seven games last year and started against Syracuse in the Camping World Bowl.
During the bowl game, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound quarterback struggled. He completed 27-of-35 passes for 277 yards in the loss.
Despite the numbers not looking awful on paper, Allison’s performance was subpar.
As Grier’s backup in the regular season, the Miami transfer had better performances, completing 6-of-10 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
Allison has a strong arm but was never able to set himself apart from Kendall during the spring. He was often inconsistent and went 11-of-24 passing with a touchdown and an interception in the spring game.
Kendall spent the past three seasons learning under Heisman winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
The 6-foot-1, 221-pound redshirt junior played in eight games, completing 28-of-39 passes for 265 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Kendall possesses a strong arm and has good size. He is an accurate passer.
Kendall went head-to- head with Murray until the final days of camp when Murray emerged and became the Sooners’ No. 1 quarterback.
During WVUs spring, Kendall failed to stand out while trying to learn Neal Brown’s offense.
While Kendall might have the best arm, redshirt freshman Trey Lowe is the most athletic of the five.
The 6-foot-2, 218 pounder excels with his ability to run and can throw the ball deep.
If the Mountaineers hope to have success this season, someone will have to step up and emerge as a solid quarterback.
WVU’s secondary took a major hit this offseason. Key contributors from last season’s team such as Dravon-Askew Henry and Toyous Avery graduated. Unexpectedly, Kenny Robinson and Derek Pitts transferred.
Those departures have caused players to switch positions and to give some younger players a chance to shine.
The Mountaineers’ first depth chart lists Dante Bonamico the starter at free safety. In 2018, the Bridgeport native saw action in 12 games on special teams and in a backup role. He finished with 10 tackles, including eight unassisted and a fumble recovery.
Competing with Bonamico is junior Jake Long and true freshman Kerry Martin Jr.
During summer workouts, Martin was a name that several upperclassmen were talking about. His teammates were impressed with his leadership and how he was handling himself.
While playing at Capital last season, he racked up 55 tackles, one sack, five interceptions, five pass breakups, one fumble recovery and two forced fumbles.
Long was a former cornerback who is transitioning to safety. He missed the 2018 season because of an injury.
Josh Norwood is another player emerging as a leader in WVU’s secondary. The former cornerback moved to cat safety to help fill some holes.
As a junior, the 5-foot-10, 179-pounder was the Mountaineers third-leading tackler with 64 stops, including 49 solo stops, four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. He had a team-high 11 pass breakups.
Backing up, Norwood is Sean Mahone. He saw limited action last year and the majority were on special teams. Mahone finished with six tackles with a pass breakup and a fumble recovery.
JoVanni Stewart played linebacker last season but is heading over to spear safety this year. With Stewart’s skillset, he is expected to dominate the role.
Behind Stewart is redshirt freshman Kwantel Raines and Noah Guzman/
Keith Washington Jr. is set to lead the corners. As a junior, he had a breakout season in his first year in the gold and blue, earning an All-Big 12 honorable mention.
He ended the year with 40 tackles, including 33 solo stops, 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound defensive end was fifth in the conference in interceptions and had nine pass breakups.
Nicktroy Fortune and Tae Mayo are listed behind Washington.
Another corner with some experience is Hakeem Bailey. The redshirt senior finished 2018 with 42 tackles, including 31 solo stops, 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception and a forced fumble. Dreshun Miller is listed as his backup.
The 6-foot-1 junior is a product of Eastern Arizona College where he registered 44 tackles and 12 pass breakups.
The inexperience, lack of depth and position changes at safety and corner are a big concern for WVU. As the season goes, these players should improve as they settle in but the lack of experience could hurt them early on. The Mountaineers have a tough schedule out of the gate.
3. Wide Receivers
The wide out position is another inexperienced group. WVU lost superstars Gary Jennings Jr. and David Sills V. Then Marcus Simms entered his name in the transfer portal before leaving the college ranks for the NFL.
With the loss of its three starters, WVU is left rebuilding the core that dominated the offensive ranks.
T.J. Simmons is expected to lead the receivers. The Alabama transfer played in 12 games and started six last season for the Mountaineers. He was the fourth-leading receiver on the team with 28 catches for 341 yards and a touchdown.
Besides Simmons, WVU’s receivers are rather inexperienced. Ricky Johns and Bryce Wheaton. Neither saw much playing time last year.
Tevin Bush played in 11 games at inside receiver last season. The 5-foot-6, 166-pound junior had 14 catches for 209 yards and a touchdown
Sam James and Randy Fields Jr. both redshirted last season but are expected to contribute this year.
James could be a pleasant surprise for the Mountaineers with the potential to be a deep threat.
Florida State transfer George Campbell adds some experience at the position but has been plagued by injuries much of his career. The former five-star recruit has size and speed but needs to remain healthy.
Like Doege, Temple transfer Sean Ryan could make an immediate impact but is waiting to hear from the NCAA whether or not he will be eligible this year.
With the lack of experience at the receiver position, it is unlikely for WVU to put up the offensive numbers they did last season.
Cover Photo Credit: Shanna Rose, BGS