WVU receiving corps remains unsettled
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - There seems nearly as much mystery about who will be catching passes for West Virginia Saturday as who will be throwing them.
Yes, the Mountaineers go into their season opener against William & Mary (noon kickoff, Fox Sports 1) with two quarterbacks and at least no public plan as to how Paul Millard and Clint Trickett will share the snaps - if indeed they will share them at all.
But there could very well be a true revolving door at the receiver positions, perhaps as many as eight to 10 or more in two, three or four spots, depending upon the formation.
Of course, given that among the players listed at those spots on the first-week depth chart there is a grand total of 11 receptions returning from last season - that's all of 3.2 percent of the passes caught by wideouts in 2012 - that's understandable.
Quite simply, it's going to take some time and experimentation to figure out who should be playing there.
"Right now it's about 50-50 with all those guys at all four receiver spots, to be honest with you,'' WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said this week. "And then once we get into the games I anticipate that one of those guys per position will rise up, which will give that specific kid the majority of the snaps.''
Who those risers might be is the big question mark.
The depth chart lists three receiver positions, two outside and one inside. In a four-receiver set there is another inside receiver.
The outside receivers listed first are Ivan McCartney and K.J. Myers, perhaps not coincidentally the only two receivers on that depth chart who caught passes last year. McCartney caught nine passes for 112 yards before leaving the team after eight games. Myers caught a 3-yard touchdown pass in mop-up time in the opener against Marshall and a 6-yard pass the next week against James Madison. That was it.
They are listed ahead of two junior college players who were brought in specifically because the team seemed short on talent after the loss of Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and J.D. Woods, who combined for 289 catches a year ago, or 85.3 percent of the wideout receptions. Kevin White and Ronald Carswell are the backups.
McCartney and Myers are the starters presumably because of their knowledge of the system and their performances in camp. A foot injury that has made White questionable for Saturday's opener might have played into it, as well.
But it's not as if Holgorsen anointed McCartney and Myers the starters by default. He praised Myers throughout August and says McCartney is just a different player and person after his hiatus from the team.
"He's had a good camp,'' Holgorsen said of the 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior and former four-star recruit from Miami. "He's been able to maintain relative health, which has always been one of his issues in the past. Has he had some sore limbs over the last 31/2 weeks? Yes. Did it prevent him from practicing? No. And that's different than the way it was the first two years I was here.
"Yeah, I've seen some differences in him. I think it matters a lot more to him now. Whatever those issues he was dealing with last year I don't see him dealing with them. Is he going to be a difference maker? We'll see on Saturday.''
The inside receivers listed on the depth chart have no college experience. The backup is redshirt freshman Devonte Mathis, but the talk of the preseason was true freshman Daikiel Shorts, who has earned the start.
"Daikiel Shorts has really impressed me,'' Holgorsen said of the 6-foot, 201-pounder from New Jersey who enrolled in January and was able to go through spring practice and the full offseason. "He's just a true freshman, but he's really impressed me, so he'll be one of the first ones that get trotted out there. But then how much they play is going to depend on what I see once they're out there.''
Also in the mix in the slot is Jordan Thompson. He's not on the depth chart, but he's actually the leading returning receiver after catching 13 passes for 85 yards as a freshman. He was the talk of last year's preseason who never really lived up to the hype, but then had six catches for 123 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game.
West Virginia's coaches have pretty much universally decided not to talk about Thompson until his game production comes close to matching what he's done in practice and the spring game.
The wild card at inside receiver, though, might be 5-9, 175-pound junior college transfer Mario Alford. Like White, he's also listed as questionable for Saturday with a foot injury. Vernon Davis, the transfer from Miami who was switched from cornerback to receiver in the spring, can also play there, as can any of the deep corps of running backs, along with bigger utility types Cody Clay and Garrett Hope.
With all of those bodies - throw Dante Campbell and Terrance Gourdine into the mix as outside receivers, too - talent isn't the question. What Holgorsen wonders about is how so many newcomers will react under pressure.
"You've got guys that haven't been through this before like Mario, Kevin, Ronald Carswell. They just haven't been through this before,'' Holgorsen said. "Devonte Mathis, Vernon Davis, they haven't been through this before.''
A year ago, Holgorsen didn't use a ton of receivers, but that was because the guys at the top of the depth chart were clearly the ones who needed to play. That may change this year, but a lot depends on whether or not anyone clearly steps up like Austin and Bailey did the last two seasons.
"We'll play upwards of about eight,'' Holgorsen said. "Once a guy establishes that he's the main guy at that specific position, then it reduces the backup reps barring any injuries that we have.
"The top-end guys we had last year were just that much better than the other guys, so they played a considerable amount of snaps than the backups did. But we always went into each game with about eight guys that were capable of playing.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.