MORGANTOWN. W.Va. — Dissatisfied with the hustle of West Virginia’s inside receivers, Shannon Dawson has five walk-ons ready to step in.
So what if they’re his nieces and nephews.
Nearly two weeks into preseason camp and 17 days shy of the opening game, WVU’s offensive coordinator chided his slot receivers and warned he’s “getting impatient with those guys” after a string of poor practices. He didn’t call out individuals, but rather Dawson blistered with a broad brush—the first serious-sounding reprimand for a group that includes junior college transfer Mario Alford, four-star high school recruit Shelton Gibson, converted cornerback Vernon Davis, returnees Jordan Thompson and Devonte Mathis, and the currently injured Dante Campbell.
“They need to start understanding how to play football,” he said. “All I’m asking them to do is run fast and we can’t even get that down right now.
“Playing fast shouldn’t be hard. My brother’s got five kids and I can get them out there running full-speed. That should be natural. Run your route fast. I don’t care if you run the wrong route, I want to see your feet and your hands moving fast.”
“(The slot receivers) have had maximum opportunities and reps to do it right. They’re just lazy and they won’t do it, so whatever. We’ll find somebody who will.” — WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson
That group owns a combined 15 Division I catches and just one touchdown, yet Dawson wouldn’t attribute the woes to inexperience.
And timid route-running is only part of his frustration. The coach—who oversaw receivers the past two seasons before shifting his focus to quarterbacks this spring—had reporters chuckling as he mocked slot receivers for whiffing on blocks that are crucial to executing screens and the running game.
“Our inside receivers, sometimes they don’t even need shoulder pads out there, the way they block,” Dawson bristled. “They need to get on somebody and show some effort. I’m not going to get into what we’re doing now—it doesn’t even resemble blocking.”
What irks Dawson even more is that the slot players aren’t typically asked to sustain blocks for long in WVU’s spread sets. With quick-hitting screens, Jet sweeps and zone runs coming their way, the inside receivers need only tie up defenders briefly.
“It’s going to take literally two seconds for the ball to get by you, so if you get beat late, you’re good. Just get your hands on them,” said Dawson, emphasizing that blocking is all about determination.
“Blocking is 100-percent effort. It’s probably the least-skilled thing we do. All you’ve got to do to be a good blocker is to go out there and fight your ass off. That’s it.”
Regardless of how the unit responds, Dawson said West Virginia has enough options it won’t move away from four-receiver sets. Coaches can always deploy fullback Cody Clay in the slot or shift a better-performing outside receiver to the inside.
“I’m pleased with the outside receivers, because they’re making plays, they’re being physical,” Dawson said. “We need our inside receivers to step up and start pulling their weight.
“They’ve had maximum opportunities and reps to do it right. They’re just lazy and they won’t do it, so whatever. We’ll find somebody who will.”