MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — While sophomores Adam Shuler and Reese Donahue are frontrunners to start at defensive end for West Virginia, the nose guard competition remains a quandary.
“We’ve got a four-man rotation right now and everybody may get 15 snaps a game,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said Monday.
Fifth-year senior Xavier Pegues, sophomore Jaleel Fields, juco signee Jalen Harvey and true freshman Lamonte McDougle are the candidates — none of whom has taken a Division I snap.
“We don’t really have anybody,” said defensive line coach Bruce Tall. “Inexperience is part of the collegiate level. We have to work at that and make sure it is secure. That is where it all starts in the middle.”
McDougle features a bowling-ball build and NFL bloodlines thanks to dad Stockar and his uncle, Jerome. After the first week of camp included three full-pad practices, the freshman has validated the explosiveness he showed on recruiting film from Deerfield Beach High in Florida.
“If they’re physically mature enough then we’re going to rep them,” Gibson said. “We thought he was, so we put him in and we’re seeing that he’s able to do a lot of good things.
“The kid’s a worker and plays with great leverage. It probably helps that he’s 5-9. He says 6-foot but I think he’s about 5-9 1/2.”
Already sporting massive arms, McDougle could someday emerge as the team’s bench press champion, though Tall pointed out the difference in facing off against 21- and 22-year-old offensive linemen.
“You might lift more in the weight room but there’s something about that ‘man strength’ and you can’t give it that,” Tall said. “There’s no pill for experience.”
Stills getting noticed
Gibson highlighted another freshman, Darius Stills of nearby Fairmont High, calling him the “pleasant surprise” of camp.
At 6-4 and 278, Stills is working at defensive end and putting himself in position to see backup snaps this season.
“We just didn’t know if he would be ready right now,” Gibson said, “but he’s doing some really good things and hopefully he can be able to help us.”
Stills’ younger brother Dante, of course, is a four-star Class of 2018 defensive lineman who finalists include West Virginia, Oklahoma and Florida.
Star safeties not immune
Being the unquestioned leaders of the secondary doesn’t make Dravon Askew-Henry and Kyzir White immune to Gibson’s fire.
“I’m disappointed in them a little bit because that’s the group I look to for leadership — guys who have played the most,” he said. “I think sometimes guys feel themselves and think, ‘I’m really good.’ Well, that’s not going to work on this defense.
“They’re easy targets when they start loafing. It’s easy to get on those guys and set an example, so I’m going to continuer to stay on them. The last couple days we got their attention.”
Versatile redshirt freshman Jonn Young’s ability to handle kickoffs would ease stress on place-kicker Mike Molina.
“Jonn was going (Sunday) and he looked good,” said WVU assistant Mark Scott. “His body has changed. He is a lot stronger, he has kept his flexibility, which is only going to help with the power in his leg both on kickoffs and when it comes to punts.”
Young also is challenging for the punting job. Junior Billy Kinney ranked fourth in the Big 12 with a 41.7-yard average last season but the Mountaineers ranked seventh in net punting (38.2 yards).
— First-year running backs coach Tony Dews said Kennedy McKoy looks faster in person than he did on last season’s game film. McKoy reportedly ripped off a 55-yard touchdown run during Sunday’s practice.
— West Virginia is unlikely to install an array of tight end packages because Trevon Wesco (and in some capacities, fullback Eli Wellman) are the only players who can execute them. Should either get injured, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said he’d shift into more sets with two running backs.
— Receivers coach Tyron Carrier caught 320 passes at the University of Houston but still feels slighted after scoring only 22 touchdowns.
“Dana took me out all the time (in the red zone) and it hurts my feeling to this day,” he said. At 5-foot-7, Carrier said when Holgorsen left him on the field it was “more for a distraction and he’d end up throwing it to one of the bigger receivers. It’s a touchy topic.”