MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Former walk-on Justin Arndt, generously listed at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, ran with West Virginia’s first-team defense at Sam linebacker Saturday. That relegated junior Xavier Preston to the second unit, a curious (and probably temporary) demotion for the presumed heir apparent to Nick Kwiatkoski’s former spot.
“Got to create competition. I don’t want to give a job to anybody,” said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “Justin Arndt’s a senior. I like the way he plays, I like the way he studies the game, and I like his attention to detail. At this point right now, he deserves that opportunity.”
With crucial junior-college signees scheduled to arrive in May, and numerous position battles only beginning to ramp up, a defensive depth chart at this juncture would be more speculative than usual.
“No depth charts right now—because there may be four or five new ones coming anytime,” Gibson said.
Free safety Dravon Askew-Henry, bandit safety Jeremy Tyler and defensive ends Christian Brown and Noble Nwachukwu were the only bona-fide springtime No. 1s singled out by Gibson.
“After that, it’s dealer’s choice,” he said.
Though Preston’s practice production drew raves last year, he had a hard time getting on the field behind Kwiatkoski, who was WVU’s tackler leader for three consecutive seasons.
“He just has to learn how to play within the system and not freelance,” Gibson said. “He’s working. He’s going to be a guy that’s going to play a ton.”
The rest of the first-string defense Saturday consisted of Darrien Howard (nose guard), Al-Rasheed Benton (Mike linebacker), Sean Walters (Will linebacker), Marvin Gross (Spur safety), and Rasul Douglas and Nana Kyeremeh (cornerbacks).
More from Saturday’s scrimmage-heavy practice:
Best run: Kennedy McKoy ran through a noisy collision that left 5-foot-8 safety Khairi Sharif stunned. As offensive players whooped it up, Sharif struggled to his feet and wobbled back into the secondary before trainers coaxed him to the sideline.
Best run, part II: On a draw play during a 2-minute drill, McKoy ripped off a 35-yard run against the second-team defense.
Best catch: Thanks to WVU videographers who kept shooting after the media recording session ended, Shelton Gibson’s acrobatic one-hand grab over Antonio Crawford was viewed by thousands on social media. It was a doozy, hauled in over tight coverage, but …
Worst catch: Gibson also dropped a pass on a wide-open slant route, continuing to struggle with hard-thrown balls on short routes.
Most nostalgic job description: Since Lonnie Galloway left to become Louisville’s co-offensive coordinator, head coach Dana Holgorsen has been coaching WVU’s receivers.
“I’ve been pretty fired up about getting in the receiver room and doing stuff that I did for 15 years,” he said. “So I think these guys are going to be just fine.”
Biggest challenge: Receiver David Sills mocked cornerback Rasul Douglas about a 9-yard pre-snap cushion: “Get up here closer, Rasul. You scared?”
Worst practice referee: According to center Tyler Orlosky, it’s associate AD for football operations Alex Hammonds, who Orlosky barked at for missing an offside call that hindered the offense in a live scrimmage play.
“That sucks,” yelled Orlosky while leaving the field during the possession change.
During post-practice interviews, Orlosky joked of Hammonds: “He’s awful. He should be fired. The guy was in the neutral zone when I snapped it, and I told Alex I don’t like it, but he’s got (strength coach) Mike Joseph over there backing him up. Mike thinks he has control because he controls how much we run.”
Most comical celebration: After a long-distance hookup with Ka’Raun White down the sideline, quarterback Skyler Howard playfully flipped off defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, who grinned right back.
Most encouraging coach-speak: Nana Kyeremeh was having a pretty good day when fatigue took hold, so new cornerbacks coach Blue Adams yelled: “Don’t be tired, Nana. Don’t save heartbeats!”
Worst injury: Rredshirt freshman offensive lineman Matt Jones apparently suffered a separated shoulder. … Receiver Gary Jennings wore a green non-contact jersey and went through pass drills and fielded punt returns with a heavily taped wrist. … Safety Jarrod Harper, as was previously announced, is rehabbing from shoulder surgery that will sideline him for spring.