Key players coming into focus
MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen wrapped up the camp portion of West Virginia's preseason football practice Saturday and the assumption is that after 19 practices spread over 17 days, he has a pretty good idea of who is going to play and who isn't.
He's not saying, of course, because on one hand he'd like to maintain a heavy level of competitiveness among his players and on the other he just doesn't like to divulge much about his team.
Let people - including opponents - find that out when the time comes.
The third-year head coach does, however, admit that when classes begin Monday and practice and meeting time is reduced, he'll for the most part know who his players are.
"You want to do it now,'' Holgorsen said as camp was winding down. "If we did it a week from now, I'd start to get antsy.''
There's a difference, though, between knowing who will play and knowing who will start. The 19 practices to this point have flushed out most of the answers about who will play. For instance, the offensive line has been pared down to roughly seven to nine bodies, five of whom will start. The linebacking corps is a deep group that could include as many as 12 or 13 players, but only four can play at a time.
The pools of contributors at those positions - and almost all others - have been established, but there is still time for players to make their mark.
"We're starting to build the depth chart,'' Holgorsen said. "The first thing is developing a two-deep, which we're pretty close to. Once you develop a two-deep, then you can let those guys battle it out for another week before you name starters.''
In reality, though, the starters don't matter that much, at least at most positions.
"Even when you go into the first game, there are specific positions such as quarterback and center that will have starters that will play the whole game,'' Holgorsen said. "But then there are other spots such as corner where you might want to have three players rotating. Just because you're not a starter doesn't mean you're not going to play a considerable amount.''
Based on comments by coaches and players and the very limited opportunities the media had to watch practice, most of the key players can be identified.
On offense, the line seems destined to include as starters Quinton Spain and Curtis Feigt at tackles, Marquis Lucas and Mark Glowinski at guards and Tyler Orlosky at center. Feigt is the only senior in the group, Orlosky the youngest (a redshirt freshman) and the primary backups appear to be Pat Eger, Nick Kindler, Tony Matteo and Russell Haughton-James.
The wide receivers are a deep group that seems to have Kevin White, K.J. Myers and Ronald Carswell at the top of the play list, followed perhaps by Ivan McCartney and Terrance Gourdine. Freshman Daikiel Shorts was in that group until a few days ago when he was moved to inside receiver, joining Mario Alford. Jordan Thompson and Devonte Mathis are also likely to see playing time. Dante Campbell could join the group, but he's been injured much of camp.
Running back is nearly as crowded. Houston transfer Charles Sims seems unquestionably at the top of the list, but junior college transfer Dreamius Smith will play as a single back and in two-back sets. The leading rushers the past two seasons, Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison, will play, as will true freshman Wendell Smallwood. And Cody Clay will certainly be heavily involved in the offense as a fullback, slot receiver and tight end.
The most high-profile position - and battle - of course, was at quarterback. Florida State transfer Clint Trickett seems to have the edge there over Paul Millard and Ford Childress, but Holgorsen refuses talk about it.
"I anticipate that by the end of practice on Saturday being 100 percent sure of the direction we're going to go in [at quarterback],'' Holgorsen said Thursday. But he was unavailable after Saturday's practice.
On defense, the three-man front seems set with Shaq Rowell in the middle and Will Clarke and Eric Kinsey beside him. Kyle Rose, Dontrill Hyman, Christian Brown, Noble Nwachukwu and Trevor Demko seem destined for playing time at a position where all could play in a single game.
The linebacker corps is as crowded as any position. All or most of 13 players could play, although that number has to be pared to seven or eight and the rest might see their time primarily on special teams. Consider any of Isaiah Bruce, Doug Rigg, Wes Tonkery, Brandon Golson, Jared Barber, Nick Kwiatkowski and Shaq Petteway as potential starters, with Dozie Ezemma, Tyler Anderson and Sean Walters right behind them. Don't count out true freshmen Hodari Christian and Al-Rasheed Benton, either, at least on special teams.
The safeties seem set with Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook backed up by K.J. Dillon. Jarrod Harper, Ricky Rumph and freshman Jeremy Tyler are also in reserve. The cornerbacks will come from a group of six, with Ishmael Banks, Travis Bell and Brodrick Jenkins the primary ones for now. But Avery Williams and Brandon Napoleon will play and true freshman Daryl Worley might be the best of the bunch.
Josh Lambert is the kicker and Nick O'Toole is likely to be the punter, although Mike Molinari could do that, too. Any of those three could kick off, although it seems likely they could split the jobs with Lambert on field goals and PATs, O'Toole punting and Molinari kicking off.
The returners on punts and kickoffs will come from another deep group that includes Carswell, Sims, Alford, Smallwood, Thompson and wide receiver Vernon Davis. Freshmen Shelton Gibson and Jacky Marcellus could also line up back there, but not unless the coaches decide to break their potential redshirts because they are needed there or at wide receiver.
All told, that's about 50 who will play and another 15-20 who could, including the specialists.
"There are going to be 50 guys that are going to go into the first game knowing they're taking snaps one way or another, whether it's second-team stuff, special-team stuff or a rotation that we developed that we haven't really discussed yet,'' Holgorsen said. "I want to have a pretty good idea of what the two-deep is going to be and who those 50 players are that we're counting on.
"The next week is to get starters situated on special teams, offense and defense. Then we figure out who those other guys are going to be in the rotation. I think we're on track for all that.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.