MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s first major injury of spring practice has the Mountaineers counting their blessings, to some extent.
Right guard Josh Sills is out after having his left leg rolled up by a teammate last week. And though he’s currently hobbling around with the benefit of a massive leg brace, coach Neal Brown said it’s possible he’ll be able to practice again in a week.
The initial outlook was dire.
“We dodged a big bullet with him,” Brown said. “He got rolled up from the back and it looked really bad on film. But we got a good prognosis. I think if we get the swelling down, he’ll come back.”
The upside to the situation is that redshirt freshman Briason Mays is getting reps with the No. 1 offensive line in Sills’ place. But Brown says that doesn’t outweigh the downside since Sills is being looked to as a leader on an offensive line that only returns two starters, one of whom is playing a different position.
“[Sills] has been playing some guard and some tackle, so I would love for him to be getting reps,” Brown said. “More than anything, just from a leadership perspective. We’ve got Colton on the left side and Sills on the other, and their communication is so different just because they’ve played. It’s good Briason’s getting reps, but I’d rather Sills be out there too.”
The desire to have Sills practicing is heightened by Brown’s belief that the offensive line is the position that has the most growth to do.
“We need to be better there,” Brown said. “Our most talented position is our running backs. But if we don’t give them space, it kind of voids that strength. We need to make some positive strides there.”
Simms still MIA
Senior receiver Marcus Simms was not present at Saturday’s practice. Simms was at West Virginia’s first two spring practices, but has been absent since. Brown said that Simms is “dealing with a personal issue.”
That is a change from Simms’ status last Tuesday, when Brown said “he’s been limited a little bit with an injury.”
With Simms away, redshirt freshmen Sam James and Bryce Wheaton are getting plenty of practice reps as outside receivers.
“Both of them have really good skill sets. They play off of each other really well,” Brown said. “Bryce is a big guy who has a huge catch radius that quarterbacks really like to throw to, especially in the red zone. Sam is explosive. We’re playing them opposite right now. I’m pleased with them, but both of them have a long way to go to be go-to guys.”
Cowan out with hamstring
Linebacker VanDarius Cowan is also on the injured list with a hamstring issue. Brown said he is not sure how long Cowan will be out, but hopes to get him back on the field this spring.
First scrimmage highlights
The second half of West Virginia’s Saturday practice served as the Mountaineers first spring scrimmage. It was closed to the media, but Brown summed up what he saw.
“Obviously, the defense is a little further ahead than the offense,” Brown said. “Some of that is because of experience, some of that is just because that’s the way it works early in fall camp or early in spring ball.”
Brown said the offense showed the upper hand in red-zone and goal-line situations.
He was particularly impressed with the play of the defensive line, citing Darius and Dante Stills as well as defensive end Taijh Alston.
Despite limited reps as he works back from last season’s groin injury, middle linebacker Dylan Tonkery is moving at full speed and looking poised to reclaim his starting job.
“There’s a significant difference when he’s in the game compared to when he’s not,” Brown said.
Brown said that outside linebacker Josh Chandler has been one of the most consistent players in the first two weeks of spring practice, and once again cited safety Kenny Robinson for standing out.
On offense, Brown called receiver T.J. Simmons “the catalyst.” Simmons scored on a 69-yard touchdown pass from Austin Kendall.
Brown also said that running back Alec Sinkfield stood out in the open field, while Kennedy McKoy was a force around the goal line.