MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Last season’s chaotic race among the West Virginia receivers has a definitive pecking order now, with Kevin White, Mario Alford and Daikiel Shorts fronting the group.
With that status comes hopes for more production.
“We had a lot of bodies (last year), but we didn’t have a lot of experience,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “At least we’ve got some people back who have been on the field a lot.”
The 6-foot-4 White caught 35 passes and a team-high five touchdowns, becoming more reliable as he transitioned from junior college. Alford took even longer to adjust, starting at slot before moving outside when Ronald Carswell was suspended (and subsequently dismissed).
Alford finished with an average of 20.4 yards per on his 27 receptions.
“Hopefully Mario and Kevin will pick up where they left off,” Dawson said. “They started coming along towards the end. You could tell when they started feeling more comfortable with their lot in life, and they started making more plays.
“Those two outside guys are extremely talented—we’ve just got to get them the ball.”
That entails a quarterback derby that was in flux throughout last season, a situation that was equal parts injury and coaching indecision. The situation hasn’t been settled this spring, with frontrunner Clint Trickett rehabbing from shoulder surgery as Paul Milard and newcomer Skyler Howard split reps.
Whoever wins the quarterback job in the fall should have a go-to target in Shorts, who tied for the club lead with 45 catches in a breakout freshman season.
Now coaches want to see him break out literally.
“Good gracious the kid played a lot,” Dawson said. “He didn’t look like true freshman and mentally he didn’t act like one.
“But he’s probably more explosive now. Even the quick balls he caught out of his break, he would catch them and get tackled. He didn’t really have that explosion out of the break.”
Shorts thinks better stamina and conditioning will help improve his 11-yards-per-catch average. His season-long catch was 38 yards.
“There were definitely a lot of plays I left on the field last year,” Shorts said. “I’m doing everything that they tell me to do. I’m feeling stronger and faster, and I want to make more plays this year.”
In WVU’s four-receiver sets, the slot opposite Shorts could become a home for versatile running backs like Wendell Smallwood, Andrew Buie or Dustin Garrison.
“We’re trying to get guys who can play running back and slot receiver,” Dawson said. “That allows us to play faster. That gives us more mobility.”
As the Mountaineers near the midpoint of spring practices, White said he’s recognizing pre-snap coverages and feeling more comfortable.
“We’re progressing,” said White, who said the receivers wanted there part to make the offense click. “We want to be scoring just about every play or at least on every drive and not settling for field goals.”