MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Marcus Simms looks bigger, Kennedy McKoy looks faster and West Virginia’s offense looks for both players to make a leap during their sophomore seasons.
After catching only one pass during his first 10 games as a freshman, Simms replaced the injured Ka’Raun White at Iowa State and streaked deep for a 48-yard touchdown. Now he’s working as the starter at outside receiver opposite White and putting together a strong preseason camp.
While retaining his downfield burst, Simms filled out from 180 pounds to 198, making him better suited to run intermediate routes.
“When you get in a physical war where somebody is trying to push you off a route, you’ve got to apply pressure back to them. Now he can do it, where before he was a little light,” said receivers coach Tyron Carrier.
“He ain’t skipping a beat. I was nervous the weight might slow him down but it didn’t. He’s bigger and stronger and I would like to say faster too.”
With Shelton Gibson’s early departure for the NFL and Jovon Durante’s status in limbo, offensive coordinator Jake Spavital needs Simms’ speed to take deep shots. Just as important is the threat of those shots, which prevents safeties from crunching down.
“I like where Simms is going,” Spavital said Monday. “He’s looking big, which is a lot different from where he was last year. You can see that Will (Grier) and him are starting to get some continuity.”
Head coach Dana Holgorsen repeatedly has elevated Simms into a group of four receivers West Virginia can count on — joining White, David Sills and Gary Jennings. Ahead of a gaggle of unproven backups, Simms could play heavy snaps after finishing 2016 with six catches for 95 yards.
“I stay on his throat a little bit,” Carrier said. “I never let him make excuses.”
McKoy had no excuses for his freshman-year lowlight — a busted assignment that got Skyler Howard knocked out of the Missouri game temporarily. McKoy was yanked from the game permanently, an abrupt lesson in how coaches don’t tolerate mental mistakes.
“I knew as soon as the play was over I did something wrong,” McKoy said. “So I went to the film room, learned from it and I never messed up on that play again.”
Though his position coach last season, Ja’Juan Seider, joined the staff at Florida, McKoy sees similar traits in new assistant Tony Dews. Such as the constant attention to technique during practice, and the frequent check-ins away from the field to gauge the players’ welfare.
Among a stockpile of talented running backs, Dews considers McKoy more than a sidekick to 1,000-yard rusher Justin Crawford.
“He looks faster than what I saw on last year’s film,” Dews said.
And portions of last year’s film was stellar — like the 99 yards he produced as a backup at Texas Tech, his 83 at Oklahoma State and the 127-yard output against Kansas. McCoy’s grittiest game was his first career start at Texas, in which he carried a season-high 25 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns. He played that day despite a tender shoulder that subsequently kept him to four carries over the final four games.
Reflecting on his 6.5-yard rushing average and the receiving versatility he showed in the slot, McKoy considered last year a proving ground. This season his expectations are unchecked.
“Now that I know what I’m fully capable of at this level,” he said, “I’m ready to take off.”