Barely nine hours have elapsed since Alabama beat Notre Dame to wrap up the 2012 BCS title, and now the focus turns acutely to recruiting. A month away from college football’s National Signing Day, MetroNews chatted with two reporters who closely cover WVU recruiting — Keenan Cummings of WVSports.com for Rivals and Kevin Kinder of Blue & Gold News for Scout.
With a month left before Signing Day, where do you see WVU’s primary focus?
CUMMINGS: I think you will see West Virginia focus on several positions with the remainder of the scholarships in this class, including defensive line, offensive line and cornernback. There could be several players added at other positions as well, but that looks to be the primary spots the staff needs to fill over the final month. It wouldn’t surprise to see some of that coming from the junior college level.
KINDER: It has to be on cornerbacks and the interior defensive line. There should be another player here or there (offensive line, for example), but these are two positions where West Virginia needs more help, and quickly.
Did the Pinstripe Bowl loss have any impact on Mountaineers targets or commitments? How about the firing of Steve Dunlap?
KINDER: I don’t think so. The results of one game usually don’t have a huge impact. Dunlap was not heavily involved in recruiting this year, so that should be minimal as well. WVU did a good job of shoring up relations with its Baltimore/D.C. area recruits after Daron Roberts was let go, so if there were any strong ties I think they have the ability to move and repair any potential fractures.
CUMMINGS: It’s always hard to gauge how much impact a single loss had on recruits, but from what I’ve gathered at this point it has been minimal if any. However, you always want momentum down the stretch run and losing a game like that obviously can have some effect. But you can capture momentum in a number of ways and it wouldn’t surprise me to see this staff close the deal strong. As for Dunlap’s departure, I’ve been checking with his recruits and targets, and at this point they’ve all indicated to me that they plan to remain committed or will still consider the Mountaineers.
Who are the commitments your recruiting services see having an early impact?
CUMMINGS: A lot of this is based on opportunity, and I think it goes without saying that all four of the junior college players that will be enrolling early (receiver Kevin White, receiver Ronald Carswell, running back Dreamius Smith and safety Terrell Pinson) have a major opportunity to make a dent in the depth chart and carve out a role this spring. With several others coming to Morgantown in the spring on the prep level (linebacker Hodari Christian, safety Malik Greaves, quarterback Chavas Rawlins, receiver Daikiel Shorts and running back Wendell Smallwood) they, too, will have ample chances to see the field. As Karl Joseph proved last season, getting into school early can provide a great shot to see the field or even start.
Of the remaining commitments, one player that I believe has a great shot to make an early impact is Newark (N.J.) Shabazz linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton. He’s a very athletic and physical linebacker and can run sideline to sideline. Those who have watched him play have been very impressed with his skill set. Benton is the type of linebacker that West Virginia has been looking for, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if he saw plenty of early time. Another player to watch and it will depend on if he elects to redshirt due to his size is Yuma (Az.) Arizona Western Community College outside linebacker d’Vante Henry. An explosive pass rusher, Henry is tailor-made for the Buck position in the Mountaineers defense but has informed me he might decide to take a redshirt to build up his frame and become more accustomed to the defense.
KINDER: Obviously the jucos are the first place to look, and I think Dreamius Smith stands atop that group. He has a great blend of power and speed, and if he can pick up the blocking requirements I think he stands the best chance. Ronald Carswell has the speed to get an immediate look on the outside, and if he toes a straight line he’ll get every chance to contribute. Among the freshmen, I really like Darrien Howard as an anchor as an inside linebacker. WVU has some numbers back there, but Howard might be an anchor against the run that WVU as lacked. If Jacky Marcellus weren’t coming off an injury, I would say he had an early chance too, due as much to the lack of numbers at wide receiver as anything else.
Does the flip of De’Asian Richardson to Louisville mean WVU needs to find another defensive end?
KINDER: Richardson was big enough to perhaps play tackle, so that’s another hit on a spot WVU didn’t need. I think it needed another interior lineman at a minimum, so now I would expect at least two more in the final commitments of the class.
CUMMINGS: Richardson has the ability to play on the interior or the edge, but I believe you’ll see more defensive lineman in this class regardless of the outcome of his recruitment because the Mountaineers are still working on building quality depth for the future. There are a couple juco players still on the board, such as Marcus Hardison and Ufomba Kamalu, and several on the high school level too.
Assuming the current commitments remain signed, what’s your evaluation of this class?
KINDER: I think it’s a solid class so far, but I also don’t think it’s a huge step up from West Virgina classes of the past two years. It’s long on respected players that have a chance to develop and contribute, but short on the really high-profile players that attract excitement. Also, how many players really have the chance to play next year? That’s not the long-term evaluation of a class that should be applied, but for WVU, with holes at so many positions, it’s a valid measuring stick. The lack of true cornerbacks and short numbers on the lines may be dragging the evaluation down a bit, but WVU has to shore up those areas quickly if it hopes to improve on last year’s record.
CUMMINGS: Right now I think this class addresses many needs, but as I mentioned above, it’s not done yet. There will need to be a couple more additions at areas of need, but the thing that is encouraging for fans of West Virginia is the quality of the players in this class and which programs the Mountaineers had to beat for those players. As was evident last season by the number of freshmen that saw the field, I think this group could be much of the same as West Virginia continues to recruit and build toward Big 12 success.