MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Today brings the sixth of an eight-day video series providing a position-by-position examination of where the West Virginia football team stands after spring practice.
We scour the two-deep as the Mountaineers begin the countdown to the Aug. 30 showdown in Atlanta.
Tue., April 15
Wed., April 16
Thur., April 17
Fri., April 18
Mon., April 21
Tue., April 22
Receivers: Can they get their swagger back?
Wed., April 23
Running backs: Is this the best unit in the Big 12?
Thur., April 24
Quarterbacks: Can any of the current QBs win eight games?
Receivers coach Lonnie Galloway recalled the statistical jumps Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey made during their second seasons at West Virginia, and he hopes to see the same spike from Kevin White and Mario Alford.
For the record, Austin climbed from 15 to 58 catches and one touchdown to eight, while Bailey improved from 24 to 72 catches and four scores to 12. Of course those were freshman-to-sophomore increases, whereas White and Alford are juco transfers aiming to ramp up their junior-to-senior production. In Alford’s case, however, he felt as a lost as a freshman last season, scuffling to make sense of the slot receiver nuances.
But a shift to outside receiver in Week 7 simplified his responsibilities and allowed Alford to flourish during the season’s final four games. He made 18 of his 27 catches during that span, racked up 450 of his 552 receiving yards and produced both of his touchdowns.
“You didn’t have to do too much on the outside—just straight routes, vertical routes,” Alford said. “As for the inside, you had to move between the linebackers and all that. It was an easy adjustment to the outside.”
The 5-foot-9 Alford expects his late-season production from 2013 to carry over throughout 2014. “I feel great, because I’ve got everything down pat,” he said. “I know all the plays like the back of my hand.”
Throughout spring practice, Galloway noticed White and Alford better comprehending their alignments and reads.
“The routes are crisper, they know the depths,” he said. “Just watching (practice) on tape, if they mess up they’re grabbing their helmets because they know what they did wrong.”
Projected starters: White (6-3, 208, redshirt senior) has the physique and skill set of an NFL receiver, but needs to improve on the 35 receptions and five touchdowns he generated last season. Alford (5-9, 174, senior) is undersized for the outside spot, but has shown he can run away from larger corners after catching slants and crossing routes.
The only certainty at slot receiver is Daikiel Shorts (6-1, 197, sophomore), who tied for the team lead with 45 catches in 2013. In a four-receiver set, Jordan Thompson (5-8, 162, junior) is listed as the starter at the other inside receiver.
Backups: Though capable fill-ins, none of the reserves have produced shining moments. Devonte Mathis (6-1, 221, redshirt sophomore) and KJ Myers (6-2, 196, redshirt junior) combined for 18 catches and 193 yards last season on the outside, while converted cornerback Vernon Davis (5-10, 165, redshirt sophomore) made most of his five catches on Jet sweeps. Look for two new contributors, Jacky Marcellus (5-8, 173 redshirt freshman) and Shelton Gibson (6-1, 186 redshirt freshman), to emerge as the top reserves next fall. Gibson was ineligible as a partial qualifier last season.
Watch the video at the top of the page for player highlights and to learn how Allan Taylor and Justin Hoff grade the receivers after spring practice.