Mountaineers’ Spring Linebacker Preview
As we rapidly approach the West Virginia Mountaineers’ Spring game set for April 24, we continue our Spring preview series. We started by looking at the total team focus. Then, we ran through the offensive position groups from the offensive line to the quarterbacks. Next, we shifted to the defense beginning with the defensive line. Now, we shift focus to our Mountaineers’ Spring linebacker preview.
A New Duo of Linebackers
For the 2021 season, the Mountaineers see two players from different position groups transition into the linebacker room. One took us completely by surprise. But the other did not.
Indeed, while Jairo Faverus came to West Virginia as a safety recruit, his frame allowed plenty of room to grow. His instincts and skill set screamed linebacker. Sure enough, during his first Spring press conference, Head Coach Neal Brown told us that Faverus transitioned to linebacker. Brown put it simply, Faverus “grew into a will (linebacker) body.”
In his most recent comments to the media, however, Brown shared with us that wideout Devell Washington came to the staff and asked them if he could play linebacker. He played exclusively here during last weekend’s scrimmage. Washington offers a unique combination of size and speed for the position group, but it remains to be seen how naturally he picks up the position at this level.
A Problem With Depth?
Taurus Simmons and Lanell Carr both came to West Virginia as part of its 2020 class looking like potential bandit linebackers. However, the Mountaineers now list both on the official roster as defensive linemen. Both could ultimately split time between defensive end and bandit, but slotting them into that group leaves a potential numbers problem at linebacker.
For now, West Virginia lists Vandarius Cowan, Jared Bartlett, and Eddie Watkins as the only bandit linebackers on the roster. Clearly, Brown does not limit himself to those designations, but that left the Mountaineers with only three scholarship linebackers to compete for the two traditional linebacker spots during Spring camp. Obviously, they benefit from the additions of Faverus and Washington, which now gives them close to a three-deep (not including walk-ons) for Spring.
That said, the situation at linebacker is probably still the biggest question mark on the team. It certainly proves the biggest issue on the defense. The talent is certainly there, but injuries could make this unit particularly vulnerable.
Veteran Leadership Among the Linebackers
Despite the depth issues, West Virginia does return some veterans to the unit. While Cowan has dealt with a series of unfortunate events (lingering academic issues then a pair of injuries), he returns as a senior (with two years of eligibility should he choose to take them both). Despite limited snaps as a result of those issues, Cowan has proven efficient. In just under 120 snaps, Cowan tallied 23 tackles, five-and-a-half tackles for loss, three sacks, and a forced fumble. His talent is unmistakable. If he can stay on the field, he could prove a real weapon at a bandit and help ease the loss of Tony Fields.
Meanwhile, Bartlett, now in his third year in the program, has given West Virginia a steady hand at the bandit. He tallied over 350 snaps in his last two seasons. Bartlett plays with an edge, and he and Cowan together offer the unit a lot.
Josh Chandler-Semedo clearly leads the traditional linebackers. Now in his fourth year, Chandler-Semedo brings nearly 1,000 snaps of experience to the group. According to Brown, he can play both the Mike and Will spots. Averaging over 65 tackles each of the last two seasons, Chandler-Semedo has been productive as well.
Finally, Exree Loe, who stepped into the position from the safety group (much like Faverus is doing now), adds over 600 snaps of experience. Loe lines up most often as the Will linebacker and finds himself around the ball often. His veteran leadership should solidify the first unit of linebackers.
Help in the Summer
Fortunately, West Virginia’s numbers problem should resolve itself soon enough. This Summer, in fact, the Mountaineers will receive help when freshman Ja’Corey Hammett and blue-chip transfer Lance Dixon enroll. Brown, however, has told the media that he will look to add at least one more linebacker through the transfer portal during the Summer. Preferably, he wants to add one with multiple years of eligibility to help the team build depth not just for 2021 but for the next several years.